New VA chief Bob McDonald: West Point grad with strong business background

President Obama is expected to name Bob McDonald Monday as the new head of the troubled Department of Veterans Affairs. McDonald has a military background, but it is his experience as a corporate CEO that likely will prove most useful.

Mark Lennihan/AP
Robert McDonald speaking at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York in 2011. President Barack Obama is selecting the former Procter and Gamble executive as his choice to be secretary of Veterans Affairs.

President Obama will name a West Point graduate and corporate executive to head the troubled Department of Veterans Affairs.

According to multiple news sources quoting administration officials, the new VA chief – to be officially announced Monday – is Bob McDonald, who ranked high in his 1975 class at the United States Military Academy, leaving the Army after five years as a captain in the 82nd Airborne Division.

But it's his experience as former chief executive of Procter & Gamble that may be most important at a time when the VA sorely needs reform and strong, clear-eyed management. In recent years, the head of the VA has been a retired general – including Eric Shinseki, who stepped down last month as the VA scandal mounted.

“The choice suggests a real focus on customer satisfaction, as opposed to what you might get from a retired general or medical leader,” Phillip Carter, who follows veterans issues for the Center for a New American Security, told the Washington Post. “It is probably a wise choice given the concerns right now of veterans.”

Corporate executives who had served on P&G’s board of directors were quick to praise Mr. McDonald.

Boeing chairman Jim McNerney said in a statement Sunday that McDonald was “an outstanding choice for this critically important position.”

“Prior to retirement, he navigated Procter & Gamble through the difficult post-financial-crisis years, where he expanded business in developing markets and made substantial progress improving the efficiency of the company’s internal operations,” Mr. McNerney said.

American Express chief executive Ken Chenault said in a statement that McDonald is a “very strong manager who came up through the ranks with an outstanding track record of dealing with challenges and delivering results. He stays on top of the details.”

There certainly will be many details to attend to.

The Veterans Health Administration, which is part of the VA, oversees more than 1,700 health care facilities, including 150 hospitals and 820 clinics, and serves nearly 9 million individuals a year. It’s the largest integrated health system in the US.

The latest report on VA failings – this investigation overseen by White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors – cited a 'corrosive culture' and 'chronic systemic failures' leading to very long wait times for treatment and alleged falsification of records.

In a VA audit earlier this month, it was reported that more than 57,000 US military veterans have been waiting for 90 days or more for their initial medical appointments, and that an additional 64,000 who enrolled for VA health care over the past decade have never been seen by a doctor.

At a hearing of the House Veterans Affairs Committee June 9, Richard Griffin, the VA's acting inspector general, said he was investigating 69 agency medical facilities nationwide for possible wrongdoing, up from 42 two weeks earlier.

A previous inspector general's investigation into the troubled VA hospital in Phoenix, Ariz., found that about 1,700 veterans in need of care were "at risk of being lost or forgotten" after being kept off an official, electronic waiting list.

This is the situation McDonald must address when he takes over as VA chief. His views on how to reform the VA are sure to get close scrutiny on Capitol Hill.

"The VA needs significantly improved transparency and accountability, and it needs an increased number of doctors, nurses and other medical staff," Sen. Bernie Sanders, who chairs the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, said in a statement. "I look forward to meeting with Mr. McDonald next week to ascertain his views on these important issues."

Politically, his welcome in Congress should be bipartisan.

McDonald has donated to Republican candidates, including 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, House Speaker John Boehner, and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, according to filings tracked by the Center for Responsible Politics and reported by the Wall Street Journal.

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