By Julie Pace
President Barack Obama plans to nominate former Proctor & Gamble executive Robert McDonald as the next Veterans Affairs secretary, as the White House seeks to shore up an agency beset by treatment delays and struggling to deal with an influx of new veterans returning from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
An administration official said Obama would announce McDonald's appointment Monday. If confirmed by the Senate, McDonald would succeed Eric Shinseki, the retired four-star general who resigned last month as the scope of the issues at veterans' hospitals became apparent.
U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, who is the ranking Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Veterans' Affairs and a gubernatorial candidate in Maine, re-acted positively to McDonald's appointment in a written statement Monday morning.
"The White House report delivered to President Obama on Friday is the latest reminder of the large number of problems we are working together to address at the VA: from the immediate need to get veterans off waitlists and into a doctor's office, to the longer-term needs such as addressing the VA's culture to putting in place a healthcare system that can plan strategically for the influx of patients it will receive in the coming years," Michaud said. "I'm pleased that Bob McDonald has experience both in the military and as the leader of a large corporation -- backgrounds which I believe would serve him well at the helm of the VA. But no one person is going to solve of all the VA's problems -- it's something all of us must continue working on together in the weeks, months, and years to come."
In tapping McDonald for the post, Obama is signaling his desire to install a VA chief with broad management experience. McDonald also has a military background, graduating near the top of his class at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and serving as a captain in the Army, primarily in the 82nd Airborne Division.
The administration official insisted on anonymity in order to confirm McDonald's appointment before the president's announcement.
The VA operates the largest integrated health care system in the country, with more than 300,000 employees and nearly 9 million veterans enrolled for care. But the agency has come under intense scrutiny in recent months amid reports of patients dying while waiting for appointments and of treatment delays in VA facilities nationwide.
Obama dispatched a top adviser, Rob Nabors, to the VA to help investigate agency issues and appointed Sloan Gibson as acting secretary while awaiting a permanent replacement.
Nabors and Gibson delivered a scathing report to Obama Friday, citing "significant and chronic system failures" in the nation's health system. The report also portrayed the Veterans Affairs Department as a struggling agency battling a corrosive culture of distrust, lacking in resources and ill-prepared to deal with an influx of new and older veterans with a range of medical and mental health care needs.
McDonald's nomination was praised by his peers in the private sector and military.
Jim McNerney, Chairman and CEO of The Boeing Company, called McDonald an "outstanding choice for this critically important position."
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, called McDonald "a good man, a veteran and a strong leader with decades of experience in the private sector. With those traits, he's the kind of person who is capable of implementing the kind of dramatic, systemic change that is badly needed and long overdue at the VA."
Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said that he looked forward to meeting with McDonald next week to get his views on issues he views as important.