President Donald Trump is considering Palm City Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Mast for the position of Veterans Affairs secretary, a position still vacant after White House physician Dr. Ronny Jackson withdrew his controversial nomination for the post last month.
In a statement released Thursday afternoon, Mast said, “It is an honor to be considered to serve my fellow veterans and their families at the highest possible level.”
Mast is among the list of candidates for the job heading an agency of 360,000 employees serving 9 million veterans.
White House officials have met with former Florida Rep. Jeff Miller, a Republican who once led the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, according to the Associated Press.
Ironically, President Donald Trump asked Mast's opinion of possible candidates during a dinner in December at the Mar-a-Lago Club. Mast put in a good word for Miller.
“He's obviously seen all the issues that have come through in terms of constituents,” Mast said of Miller. “I don't think there's somebody else that's on the shortlist … that has more experience with seeing the complaints first-hand. I would be very hopeful for a man like Jeff Miller to fill that role.”
Mast, 37, lives in Palm City with his wife Brianna and three school-age children, Magnum, Maverick and Madeline. According to his congressional profile page, Mast earned a degree from the Harvard Extension School. The type of degree and his major are not listed and his profile does not include any experience in hospital management.
Mast is the first member of Congress to open a satellite office in a VA facility, setting up shop in the West Palm Beach VA to meet with veterans. He was wounded while serving in Afghanistan in 2010, which resulted in the amputation of both of his legs.
White House officials have also met with another candidate, Ron Nichol, a senior adviser to The Boston Consulting Group, who helped organize the president's transition. Acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, a former Pentagon undersecretary for personnel and readiness, and Samuel Spagnolo, the president of the National Association of Veterans Affairs Physicians and Dentists, are also under consideration for the post, according to the AP report.
VA officials have told some veterans groups they are preparing for the possibility that the agency won't have a permanent VA secretary in place for another three months as Trump mulls over replacement candidates.
The VA faces problems demanding immediate attention, including a multi-billion dollar revamp of electronic medical records now in limbo that members of Congress fear will prove too costly and wasteful, and a budget shortfall in the coming weeks in its private-sector Veterans Choice program.
The House is slated to vote on a wide-ranging bill next week that would give veterans more freedom to see doctors outside the VA health system and fill the budget shortfall, a major step toward fulfilling Trump's promise to expand private care for veterans.
The VA post became vacant after Trump fired VA Secretary David Shulkin earlier this year. Trump's first choice for the top VA post, Jackson, withdrew in April.
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