Last week, President Trump shocked some by taking the safe road and nominating the acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to fill the role permanently.
The president is not known for taking safe or predictable actions. However, in the wake of the scandal with Dr. Ronny Jackson, and the very public and unpleasant firing of Dr. David Shulkin in March, he almost had to in order to ensure confirmation. Wilkie’s nomination is not without hiccups, but should go relatively smoothly.
Not long after Wilkie took control of the VA, Curt Cashour, the VA's press secretary, released a statement saying:
"Under Acting Secretary Wilkie’s leadership, senior VA officials are now on the same page, speaking with one voice to Veterans, employees and outside stakeholders, such as Congress and veterans service organizations, and are focused on a number of key priorities in the short term."
It was his ability to jump into the madness and hit the ground running that won him the job. These are skills honed in his position as the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness at the Pentagon.
Wilkie’s nomination to permanently head the VA comes at a critical time for the department.
A multi-billion dollar deal was just reached for a new electronic records system, as well as a major overhaul of the VA healthcare system that is expected to be signed into law by Memorial Day. These two pieces of legislation go a long way toward keeping the president’s campaign promises to US veterans.
Veterans groups and many on Capitol Hill support Wilkie’s nomination.
“I congratulate Undersecretary Wilkie on his nomination and look forward to learning more about his long-term views for the VA, including how he plans to implement the VA MISSION Act when it becomes law, as we work through the confirmation process," Johnny Isakson (R-GA) said of Wilkie’s nomination. The two had previously gotten to know one another during Wilkie’s time at the DOD.
Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) said he enjoyed a “good working relationship” with Wilkie. Tester is responsible for the probe that ended Dr. Ronny Jackson’s bid for the VA secretary’s seat.
The American Legion, one of the country’s largest veterans organizations, said they welcomed Wilkie’s nomination, saying he had “considerable experience navigating federal government policies,” and noted that it had been 51 days since the department had a permanent leader.
“Robert Wilkie has clearly been working hard to learn the many extremely complicated and most pressing issues facing veterans right now,” said Joe Chenelly, Executive Director of AMVETS. “His early work has earned him the confidence of AMVETS, and we’re looking forward to a thorough but hopefully speedy confirmation process.”
Wilkie has already gone through the confirmation process for his position at the DOD, so it’s hopeful that his vetting and confirmation will go quickly and smoothly. But it’s not without a hiccup.
According to a section of the U.S. Code called the Vacancies Act, Wilkie cannot be confirmed to head a government agency, in this case, the VA, while he is serving as the acting VA director, unless he previously served as the assistant director for at least 90 days.
In addition, there are currently two lawsuits against the Trump administration alleging violation of the act, which also states that the Deputy Director of the VA should have been named the interim director until the position was filled permanently.
Because of this, Wilkie would have to step down from the job in order to be confirmed for the same job. There have been cases where acting secretaries stepped down until their confirmation was complete and cases where acting secretaries stayed at their posts.
"It is abundantly clear that Robert Wilkie cannot be nominated to be VA secretary, while serving as acting secretary," said Will Fischer, an Iraq veteran and director of government relations at VoteVets.
Photo Credit: US Department of Defense