Veterans and veteran groups have met President-elect Joe Biden’s selection for VA Secretary, Denis McDonough, with mixed emotions thus far.
Disappointment and skepticism seem to currently be the predominant responses, as more time is needed to know how this will actually pan out. More than one group has expressed there was hope this next VA Secretary appointment would be a post 9/11 vet or the first woman to serve in this role.
The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) gave these three criteria for the next individual chosen for VA Secretary:
1. A Veteran
2. Medical professional or healthcare experience and knowledge
3. Bureaucracy management experience
Veterans are largely concerned that McDonough is not a veteran himself, nor does he have the healthcare experience/knowledge they feel the ideal pick for the role should possess. Bureaucracy management experience is considered crucial due to the VA being the second largest federal department, second only to the Pentagon, and having more than 266,000 employees.
If confirmed, McDonough would be the 11th VA Secretary, and only the 2nd to serve in this role as a nonveteran. President Trump’s first VA Secretary, David Shulkin, did not serve in the military.
On the flip side, leaders of several large veteran groups, such as Wounded Warrior Project, AMVETS, and Vietnam Veterans of America, have pointed out that having a veteran in that role hasn’t historically always been a plus, and it’s no guarantee it will strengthen and smooth relationships between the VA and veterans groups. Their statements indicate the opinion that you don’t have to be a veteran to be serious, be a veterans advocate, and get the job done.
Rick Weidman, executive director for policy and government affairs at Vietnam Veterans of America, said it was more important for McDonough to be experienced and influential within policy circles.
AMVETS National Commander Jan Brown expressed that while they have concerns of McDonough not being a veteran or understanding the ins and outs of VA, there is a desperate need for new ideas and leadership.
As McDonough has not yet been confirmed, nor is there any evidence to lend toward fact either way, only time will tell. While veterans are generally considered quite skeptical, many veterans group leaders say they also want to remain open to hearing McDonough’s vision and seeing what he can do to strengthen relationships and veteran options and choices.
One thing is for certain…McDonough will have more work to do than a veteran choice to prove himself to a skeptical population.