Biden Selects Denis McDonough As VA Secretary

Dec 10, 2020
Originally published on December 10, 2020 11:26 am

Updated at 2:25 p.m. ET

President-elect Joe Biden intends to nominate Denis McDonough to run Veterans Affairs, a position that requires Senate confirmation.

McDonough is a longtime aide of former President Barack Obama and served as his chief of staff from 2013 to 2017.

McDonough, who did not serve in the military, was chosen because of his ability to navigate crises and sort through the complex morass of government programs that can support veterans, a source familiar with the president-elect's thinking told NPR. The source spoke about private conversations on the condition of anonymity.

Joe Chenelly, executive director of AMVETS, said the veterans group thought Biden would go in a different direction.

"We were expecting a veteran, maybe a post-9/11 veteran. Maybe a woman veteran. Or maybe a veteran who knows the VA exceptionally well," Chenelly said in a statement. "We are looking forward to hearing from President-Elect Biden on his thinking behind this nomination."

Former VA Secretary David Shulkin, the only previous VA secretary who was not a veteran, stressed that the job was just as much about managing a huge organization — with over 300,000 staff — and the nearly constant crises that require congressional and executive branch coordination.

"Being able to manage a complex environment with many issues coming at you is what this job takes. It's not an easy job, but somebody with Denis' experience of being in the white house and managing so many issues I think is going to be a real asset," Shulkin told NPR.

Shulkin, who worked at VA under presidents Trump and Obama, said McDonough had been closely involved in responding to the 2014 VA wait-times scandal.

The VA is second only to the Pentagon in size and budget. It provides benefits and runs the largest health care network in the country, with about 9 million veterans enrolled.

News of McDonough's selection was first reported by Politico and later confirmed by NPR.

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