Denis McDonough, President Biden’s pick for Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) sailed through his confirmation hearing Jan. 27.
“I’ve been given a clear mission by President Biden. To be a fierce, staunch, advocate for veterans and their families,” McDonough said. “If confirmed, I will embrace that assignment with the solemnity it demands.
“This is not a mission I take on alone. Every federal agency has a role in supporting our veterans. If confirmed, I will make that happen, because when it comes to supporting our veterans and their families, every American has a role to play.”
During the hearing, Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (SVAC) Chairman Jon Tester, D-Mont., pointed out a critical challenge facing VA.
“Your chief responsibility during this unprecedented time will be to save as many lives as possible,” Tester told McDonough. “There is a lot riding on your shoulders.”
In his opening statement to SVAC, McDonough pledged to work to get the nation’s veterans through the COVID-19 pandemic. That task is no small order. Recent data shows that VA has had a cumulative 203,900 known COVID-19 cases and 8,838 deaths as of Jan. 28. If confirmed, one of McDonough’s tasks will be undertaking the massive effort to distribute the coronavirus vaccine to veterans enrolled in the VA health-care system as well as VA health-care workers.
“This won’t be easy. 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,” he said.
The nominee was also questioned on the future of VA health care when it comes to a full privatization of services, something The American Legion opposes.
“Community care will continue to be a key part of how the department cares for our veterans. Full stop,” he said, while noting he opposes a full outsourcing of care.
McDonough vowed to work with congressional members regardless of party affiliation, citing Tester and Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.).
“At a moment when our country must come together, the partnership between the chairman, Sen. Moran and members of this committee is inspiring,” he said. “If given the honor of serving as secretary of veterans affairs, I will strive to emulate that partnership in my work with you, as individual members and this committee as a whole.”
If McDonough is confirmed as the next VA secretary, he will become only the second non-veteran to lead the department.
The Senate is expected to vote on his nomination next week.
According to a Military Times report, Biden opted for McDonough because of his experience in crisis management and his knowledge of government operations. McDonough previously served as President Barack Obama’s chief of staff. Prior to that, he served as the deputy national security advisor, the chief of staff of the national security staff and as the deputy national security advisor for strategic communications.