Robert McDonald, the former Procter & Gamble CEO nominated to lead the broken Department of Veterans Affairs, said Tuesday that he would roll out an ambitious plan to transform the VA over his first 90 days as secretary.
"I will put the veteran at the center of everything we do, consistent with our mission," he told the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee.
Veterans Affairs Secretary nominee Robert McDonald of Ohio listens to the opening statements during a Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hearings to examine his nomination to be Secretary of Veterans Affairs. (AP Photo)
McDonald said he would start by laying out his leadership vision to all VA employees on his first day, and ask those employees to recommit to the VA's mission of providing health services to veterans. He said he would also provide incentives for those workers to come forward with any additional stories about how veterans are being denied care.
But while he said he must work with VA employees, he would also seek to punish those involved in the scandal.
"[T]hose employees that have violated the trust of the department and of veterans must be, and will be, held accountable," he said.
McDonald said he would also work to rebuild lines of communication between field offices and the VA's headquarters, and would travel the country to meet with employees.
McDonald is a veteran himself — a graduate of West Point and an Airborne Ranger Infantry Officer — and is expected to sail through the Senate confirmation process.
"My time at West Point and as a captain in the 82nd Airborne Division instilled in me a lifelong sense of duty to country," he said. "My values are steeped in my experiences at West Point and in the military.
"Those values are what allowed me to be an effective leader at Procter and Gamble — and those values are what I will bring to the management of the VA."
McDonald's military experience was evidence throughout his testimony, and he spoke frequently of getting the VA back to its core mission.
"While there is much that is going well, there have been systemic failures, which suggest that some in the organization have lost track of the mission and core values," he said. "There is a lot of work to do to transform the department and it will not be easy, but it is essential and can be achieved."
When asked by Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) why he wanted the job, after having had a successful career in the military and in the private sector, McDonald said simply,
"I desperately want this job because I think I can make a difference. I think there's no higher calling, and this is an opportunity for me to make a difference in the lives of the veterans who I care so deeply about. If not me, who?"