Officials on President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team are starting to grow anxious that Trump has not yet chosen a candidate to head the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The anxiousness primarily stems from the fact that the Senate confirmation process is long and drawn-out. Nominees already selected for other top cabinet positions face hearings next week, and if they pass, they’ll start just after the Trump administration comes into power, Military Times reports.
Any delays at this point in VA secretary selection will leave the department directionless, come Trump’s inauguration later in January.
Numerous top candidates in the running for the position, like Luis Quinonez and Toby Cosgrove, withdrew last week, forcing Trump to return to previous candidates like Pete Hegseth, former head of Concerned Veterans for America, and former GOP Sen. Scott Brown. Given Hegseth’s aggressive, right-leaning reform ideas for the VA, many veterans’ groups have come out in opposition to his plan, as they generally oppose any efforts to privatize VA health care in whole or in part.
Some of these same groups have pushed for Trump to keep current VA Secretary Robert McDonald on board, but that seems out of the question for the transition team. Moreover, Trump’s proposals for the VA sharply diverge from McDonald’s vision and past history at the agency.
As just one key example where the two diverge, Trump has previously signaled willingness to consider privatization proposals, that is, allowing at least some veterans to entirely skip the VA and obtain care exclusively from the private sector.
Transition officials aren’t the only ones starting to get nervous about the empty position.
“After putting veterans at the center of his campaign, it’s disheartening to see the VA secretary position go unfilled for so long,” Democratic Rep. Mark Takano said.
“If he needs more counsel before making this important decision, he should start by personally sitting down with our nation’s veterans service organizations,” said Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “Every day he continues to delay his decision, he jeopardizes the seamless transition that is needed to ensure this nation fulfills its commitment to the brave men and women who served.”
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