Veterans deserve a leader who will “fight relentlessly” for them, said Denis McDonough, President Joe Biden’s nominee for VA secretary while speaking before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee today.
McDonough said caring for Veterans and their families by providing health care, benefits and cemetery services will be his guiding principle.
“I’ve been given a clear mission by President Biden: to be a fierce, staunch advocate for Veterans and their families,” he said. “If confirmed, I will embrace that assignment with the solemnity it demands.”
McDonough laid out five priorities the president directed him to focus his efforts if confirmed as VA secretary.
The first priority McDonough addressed is getting Veterans through this pandemic. As the pandemic continues to claim Veteran lives, he said the path ahead won’t be easy.
“The Department of Veterans Affairs faces great challenges – challenges made even more daunting by the coronavirus pandemic,” he said. “Its capabilities have not always risen to the needs of our Veterans. If confirmed, I promise to fight – every single day – to ensure that our Veterans have the access to world-class, compassionate care they have earned.”
McDonough cited four other priorities. These included helping Veterans build civilian lives of opportunity with the education and jobs worthy of their skills, talents and service. He also said he wants all Veterans, including women Veterans, Veterans of color and LGBTQ Veterans, to feel welcome at VA. Lastly, he plans to work to eliminate Veteran homelessness, mentioning also that reducing suicide is a high priority, as is keeping faith with families and caregivers.
McDonough previously served as a former White House chief of staff, deputy national security advisor and chief of staff of the National Security Council. In his role with the National Security Council, he helped lead work on behalf of military families and Veterans.
“I understand how to untangle and solve large, complex challenges – both across and within large agencies,” he said. “I have seen firsthand that when our government is at its best, it can help serve the American people – including our Veterans – and allow them to live in security and dignity.”
Although not a Veteran himself, McDonough previously said his Marine grandfather, his World War II Veteran high school football coach and troops he met during visits to Walter Reed all inspired him.
“Most of all, like every American, I owe a profound debt of gratitude to those who have worn the cloth of our nation,” he said. “It would be a tremendous honor to serve our Veterans and their families, caregivers, and survivors by leading VA – to ensure our nation serves our Veterans as well as they have served us.”
McDonough hailed the sacrifice Veterans and families make.
“When visiting our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen on our bases in Afghanistan and Iraq, I have witnessed the heavy burdens of long deployments away from their families,” he said. “Beside their hospital beds when they come home, I’ve seen their resilience in the face of wounds – visible and invisible – that can last a lifetime. Standing there at Dover when our fallen heroes come home one final time, I’ve seen the unimaginable grief of military families, to whom we owe a debt that cannot be repaid and whom we stand by forever.”
He also said Veterans make an impact in other roles.
“Inside and outside of government, I’ve been inspired how our Veterans continue to strengthen our communities and our country out of uniform – as teachers, coaches, first responders and public servants,” he said.
The VA secretary nominee said those who served allowed the hearing to happen.
“We can meet today, in peace and freedom, because generations of service members have stepped forward and sacrificed in our name,” McDonough said. “And though only a small percentage of Americans have served in our armed forces, the president has called on every American to embrace our responsibility to support our Veterans and their families.”