WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama's choice to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs pledged Tuesday to transform the beleaguered agency, saying that "systematic failures" must be addressed.
Robert McDonald cited problems with patient access to health care, transparency, accountability and integrity, among other issues.
"The seriousness of the moment demands urgent action," McDonald told the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. "The VA is in crisis. The veterans are in need. 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."
McDonald, 61, a former Procter & Gamble CEO and an Army veteran, said taking care of veterans is personal for him. His father served in the Army Air Corps after World War II, and his wife's father was shot down over Europe and survived harsh treatment as a prisoner of war. Another relative was exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam and receives care from the VA, McDonald said, and a nephew is in the Air Force, deployed in the Middle East.
If confirmed by the Senate, McDonald said he would take a series of actions over his first 90 days "to deliver the needed reforms our veterans deserve."
He said he plans to lay out a veteran-centered vision for the department and improve communication within the vast agency, which includes more than 300,000 employees in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. His plan includes frequent video conferences with employees and extensive travel to field offices around the country, he said.
No opposition surfaced during the 2Â½-hour hearing, and senators from both parties said McDonald appeared headed to easy confirmation.