In remarks before the Senate Committee of Veterans Affairs on Wednesday, Denis McDonough, President Biden’s pick for secretary of veterans affairs, emphasized an agenda focused on guiding the department through the coronavirus pandemic and helping more veterans access care, assisting them with employment and reducing homelessness and suicide among veterans.
Former President Donald J. Trump sought to greatly expand private care for veterans; critics of that expansion feared that it was an effort to starve the department of resources and reduce its care. Mr. McDonough was asked about the issue, which has been deeply politicized over the years, and he acknowledged that care access was a key concern for veterans.
“If confirmed,” said Mr. McDonough, who once served as President Barack Obama’s chief of staff, “I will dedicate myself, with every fiber of my being, to fulfilling what President Biden rightly refers to as our country’s most sacred obligation: to prepare and equip our troops that we send in harm’s way, and to care for them and their families when they return.”
The department over the years has endured a number of scandals over wait times for veteran care and other ethics issues. A $16 billion overhaul of the veterans medical records system was delayed last year amid technical and training glitches. And female veterans have repeatedly complained about sexual harassment and worse while seeking care at the department’s facilities.
Mr. McDonough, like Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, said he would work to root out sexual harassment at his department “on day one.”
“This won’t be easy,” he said. “The Department of Veterans Affairs faces great challenges, challenges made even more daunting by the coronavirus pandemic. Its capabilities have not always risen to the needs of our veterans.”