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Biden’s Pick for VA Secretary, Denis McDonough, Gets Support From Both Sides of the Aisle

Republican Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas, leader of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, announced his support for Biden’s pick for VA secretary. Bolstered by further support from other republican representatives at last week’s hearing, Moran’s comments signaled an easy path to confirmation.

The support from Moran for Denis McDonough came at the end of the confirmation hearing after McDonough answered an array of questions from committee members. Moran commented during the hearing, “I just wanted you to know – based upon what you have said – that I will vote for your confirmation, and I will ask my Republican colleagues to do the same. Your commitment is evident to me. We wish you well in this endeavor.”

The events indicate that McDonough will take the helm of the second-largest federal agency. Second to only the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs manages the nation’s largest healthcare system, one that is being put to the test amidst the pandemic.

The President provided his pick with a list of his top priorities. Getting veterans through the Coronavirus pandemic is first on that list as death rates at the VA hit an all-time high the same day as the hearing. Pending his confirmation, McDonough would be responsible for a massive effort to get millions of veterans their vaccines.

In addition to dealing with the challenges presented by the ongoing pandemic, McDonough vowed to tackle a big list of priorities. Some of them included helping veterans build civilian lives with education and employment opportunities, making the VA more inclusive for women, minority, and LGBTQ veterans, and eliminating veteran homelessness.

“This won’t be easy,” McDonough wrote. “The [VA] faces great challenges—challenges made even more daunting by the coronavirus pandemic. Its capabilities have not always risen to the needs of our veterans.” 

The topic of privatization of VA healthcare came up at the hearing as well. Moran questioned McDonough about his commitment to supporting the VA Mission Act, which broadens veteran options when it comes to getting private doctors. McDonough pledged that he would implement the legislation in consultation with congress and supported the need for private-sector care for veterans in rural areas.

The opposite side of the aisle also brought up concerns regarding the topic of privatization. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders presented his worries about the complete outsourcing of care to the private sector. McDonough replied by insisting that he and Biden’s plan would achieve a balance between private and public care.

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