White House Has Several Potential Nominees To Lead VA

May 11, 2018
Originally published on May 11, 2018 4:04 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The second-largest office of the U.S. government after the Pentagon is the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA is charged with caring for the 20 million vets in the U.S. It has got a nearly $200 billion budget. More than 360,000 people work there. And the VA has been without a secretary since March. President Trump's recent nominee to lead the agency withdrew under a barrage of misconduct allegations. Now, as NPR's Quil Lawrence reports, the White House has several potential nominees.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: The latest possibility is Congressman Brian Mast, a first-term Florida Republican. Mast told NPR that he's honored to be under consideration. He's a decorated Army veteran who lost both his legs to an explosion in Afghanistan. As a congressman, he set up an office for his constituents inside the West Palm Beach VA. But Mast is only 37, and he's never managed an organization anywhere near the size of the VA. President Trump on a recent call into Fox News said he had a candidate in mind.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I do, actually, but I'd better not give it. Maybe we'll do it on my next call. I do. I think we're going have somebody great.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: All right.

TRUMP: Somebody that's more - you know, look; the admiral is not a politician, which is what I like, by the way.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Is your nominee somebody in politics right now?

TRUMP: Somebody with political capability.

LAWRENCE: Not only is VA the largest health care network in the country, it's subject to constant scrutiny by Congress, and it's been caught up in the heated debate over government-run health care. Trump's first VA secretary was Dr. David Shulkin, fired in March. Shulkin had been stung by charges of inappropriate spending, but he had also been targeted by other Trump political appointees who wanted Shulkin to be more aggressive on privatizing VA health care. Trump's nominee to replace Shulkin, White House doctor and rear admiral Ronny Jackson, had never managed a large organization. But it was a raft of misconduct allegations that sank him.

Other possibilities are former Congressman Jeff Miller, who led the House Veterans Affairs Committee, as well as several high-profile health executives. But with the politics and the formidable challenge of running the place, the VA has chewed through its past three leaders, says Sherman Gillums with the organization AMVETS.

SHERMAN GILLUMS: You've got a four-star army general who was followed by a multinational corporation executive, followed by a doctor who ran health care systems, all who held that position and in some way, shape or form didn't turn out well.

LAWRENCE: Gillums adds that this White House could easily name someone completely unknown and unexpected. In the meantime, Acting Secretary Robert Wilkie is also rumored to be in the running for the job. He's a Pentagon official, and he's been pushing hard for Congress to pass several important VA reforms even before VA has a new secretary. Quil Lawrence, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.