VETERANS AFFAIRS

Senate Confirms New VA Secretary Robert Wilkie

July 24, 2018

The Senate recently confirmed Robert Wilkie as the new secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs during a full floor vote.

Mr Wilkie was confirmed with an 86-9 vote, with 8 Democrats and Bernie Sanders, an independent, voting against his confirmation. Senator Sanders was also the only vote against Mr Wilkie’s confirmation in an earlier vote by the Senate’s Veterans Affairs Committee. Although Mr Wilkie was confirmed with a vast majority of support from Senators, this is the first time in the history of the VA that a nominee for secretary hasn’t carried 100% of the Senate’s vote.

President Donald Trump released a statement shortly after the vote in support of Mr Wilkie’s confirmation.

“I applaud the United States Senate for confirming Robert Wilkie as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs,” President Trump said. “Mr Wilkie has dedicated his life to serving his country with honor and pride. He has displayed great patriotism and a commitment to supporting and empowering America’s armed forces and veterans. Under his leadership, I have no doubt that the Department of Veterans Affairs will continue to make strides in honoring and protecting the heroic men and women who have served our Nation with distinction.”

The ranking Democratic member of Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Jon Tester (D-Montana), cited the lack of crucial leadership at the VA as his reason for supporting Mr Wilkie.

“Right now the VA does not have a confirmed secretary who is focused on the larger mission of serving veterans, implementing the reforms, and improving VA care and benefits,” Senator Tester said on the Senate floor. “Instead, we've had temporary political appointees in charge. They're more interested in picking political fights with people who are not their enemy. I believe we've lost sight of the VA mission. It will be up to Mr Wilkie to right that ship.”

The dissenting Senators claimed that they voted against Wilkie’s nomination because of President Trump’s desire to expand private care at the VA. Additionally, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) said that she voted against Mr Wilkie due to his views on LGBT veterans.

“The VA Secretary is responsible for providing benefits to millions of veterans and overseeing the nation’s largest health care system,” she said. “The new secretary must be someone who will respect and support veterans of all different backgrounds, protecting them against attempts to weaken or deny the care and benefits they’ve earned. During his long career, Robert Wilkie has defended many controversial policies and elected officials. He supported Senator Helms’ discriminatory campaign tactics, defended the Confederate flag, and backed the military’s transgender ban. His history offers no assurance that he would stand up to a president who holds dangerous and uninformed views about minorities, women and the LGBT community.”

David Costill


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