Senators Call Out Shulkin On VA's Unfilled Top Jobs

news
Department of Veterans Affairs

WASHINGTON — Why four top jobs within the Department of Veterans Affairs remain unfilled nearly one year after President Donald Trump took office drew the attention of members of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee on Wednesday as the questioned VA Secretary David Shulkin about the state of the agency.


The VA, the second-largest federal department, is operating without permanent leaders for its benefits administration and large health care system. Also missing are its IT leader and the assistant secretary for the agency’s new accountability and whistleblower protection office. The leadership void came up at the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing, where Shulkin gave testimony on the “State of the VA.”

“One thing that concerns me deeply is the four positions that remain unfilled in the department,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., the committee chairman. “I know you’re trying, but this is one of those things where an ‘A’ for effort isn’t enough.”

The job of undersecretary for benefits has been vacant since October 2015, when then-undersecretary Allison Hickey resigned after being implicated in a government watchdog report for helping two VA employees manipulate the department hiring system.

The VA created a commission last spring to choose a new undersecretary. Shulkin told senators Wednesday that the commission sent three names to the White House. Their first choice for the job withdrew, Shulkin said, and Trump’s administration is now vetting the second choice.

Also going through the vetting process is a candidate selected to serve as assistant secretary for information technology, Shulkin said.

Filling the position of undersecretary for health – Shulkin’s old job – has proven to be more of a challenge. Two separate commissions were created last year to find candidates, and both failed to select anyone, Shulkin said.

“We plucked you out of the job to lead the VA,” Isakson said. “That was a good idea. The bad idea is we still don’t have anybody in your place as undersecretary of health.”

Responding to the committee’s concerns, Shulkin said another commission, led by Deputy VA Secretary Thomas Bowman, will convene Jan. 25 and 26. The commission will be tasked with choosing three candidates for the undersecretary of health job and send them to the White House for consideration Jan. 26.

Former President Barack Obama appointed Shulkin undersecretary of health in 2015, a job in which he led the country’s largest health care system, with more than 160 medical centers and 900 outpatient clinics that serve 9 million veterans. Shulkin called the position “one of the hardest jobs in America.”

“It’s one with wide criticism and public scrutiny,” he said. “You have to find the person with both the skills to do it, as well as the passion for the job and the willingness to take on such a challenge. This is an essential position for us, so we have to get it right.”

Dr. Carolyn Clancy, who has been with the VA for longer than 10 years, is filling in as undersecretary of health in an interim roll. She took over in October, after the pervious interim undersecretary, Dr. Poonam Alaigh, unexpectedly stepped down from the position.

“We have an excellent acting undersecretary, and I’m very confident in her capabilities,” Shulkin said. “So, we will continue with recruitment until we get the right person.”

Peter O’Rourke leads the VA’s new accountability and whistleblower protection office and is responsible for choosing an assistant secretary. Shulkin told senators Wednesday to follow up with him about that vacancy.

———

©2018 the Stars and Stripes. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

It didn't take long for a central theme to emerge at the funeral of U.S. Marine Pfc. Joseph Livermore, an event attended by hundreds of area residents Friday at Union Cemetery in Bakersfield.

It's a theme that stems from a widespread local belief that the men and women who have served in the nation's armed forces are held in particularly high esteem here in the southern valley.

"In Bakersfield and Kern County, we celebrate our veterans like no place else on Earth," Bakersfield Chief of Police Lyle Martin told the gathering of mourners.

Read More Show Less

An Air Force Special Tactics combat controller that "delivered thousands of pounds of munition" during a close-range 2007 firefight in Afghanistan was awarded the Silver Star on Friday.

Read More Show Less

ROCKFORD — Delta Force sniper Sgt. First Class James P. McMahon's face was so badly battered and cut, "he looked like he was wearing a fright mask" as he stood atop a downed Black Hawk helicopter and pulled free the body of a fellow soldier from the wreckage.

That's the first description of McMahon in the book by journalist Mark Bowden called "Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War." It is a detailed account of the horrific Battle of the Black Sea fought in the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia, in October 1993. It claimed the lives of 18 elite American soldiers.

Read More Show Less

The July arrests of 16 Camp Pendleton Marines in front of their 800-person battalion was unlawful and a violation of their rights, a Marine Corps judge ruled Friday.

Read More Show Less

Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher will retire as a chief petty officer now that President Donald Trump has restored his rank.

"Before the prosecution of Special Warfare Operator First Class Edward Gallagher, he had been selected for promotion to Senior Chief, awarded a Bronze Star with a "V" for valor, and assigned to an important position in the Navy as an instructor," a White House statement said.

"Though ultimately acquitted on all of the most serious charges, he was stripped of these honors as he awaited his trial and its outcome. Given his service to our Nation, a promotion back to the rank and pay grade of Chief Petty Officer is justified."

The announcement that Gallagher is once again an E-7 effectively nullifies the Navy's entire effort to prosecute Gallagher for allegedly committing war crimes. It is also the culmination of Trump's support for the SEAL throughout the legal process.

On July 2, military jurors found Gallagher not guilty of premeditated murder and attempted murder for allegedly stabbing a wounded ISIS fighter to death and opening fire at an old man and a young girl on separate occasions during his 2017 deployment to Iraq.

Read More Show Less