By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House on Monday defended President Barack Obama’s choice to lead the troubled Veterans Administration, stressing that the nominee is a seasoned manager and dismissing concerns that he may lack a understanding of issues facing recent war veterans.
Obama announced at the Veterans Administration building that he is nominating Bob McDonald, a former chief executive of Procter & Gamble, to be the next secretary of veterans affairs. Obama called McDonald “one of our nation’s most accomplished business leaders and managers.”
“We’ve got to regain the trust of our veterans with a VA that is more effective, more efficient and that truly puts veterans first. Bob is the manager we need to help get this done,” Obama said.
McDonald, 61, would succeed Eric Shinseki, who resigned amid a scandal over widespread delays in getting healthcare to veterans.
Unlike Shinseki, McDonald did not spend a career in the military but instead spent 33 years in the corporate world after serving in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division and graduating from the U.S. Military Academy.
Some veterans groups were surprised by the choice and expressed concern that the White House had not discussed McDonald with them in advance.
In addition, some expressed concern that McDonald may not have a contemporary background in the veterans community, which has tried to help veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan cope with devastating injuries, combat suicides and to improve access to mental healthcare.
“He doesn’t appear to have had much experience or exposure to Iraq- or Afghanistan-era veterans so that’s something that we hope he gets up to speed on and in the loop as quickly as possible,” said Alex Nicholson, legislative director for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America organization.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest, peppered with questions about McDonald at his daily briefing, said McDonald was chosen because of his record as a solid manager.
“This is somebody who has a lot of experience and has enjoyed a lot of success in managing a large company,” Earnest said.
Key senators who will consider McDonald’s nomination have not raised any major concerns, suggesting a confirmation process that could be relatively free of fireworks.
In fact, McDonald’s history of contributing to Republican political campaigns could end up helping him. The Ohio native contributed to the campaign of Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, who has endorsed him.
McDonald retired abruptly from P&G a year ago in the midst of a major restructuring at the company.
“He’s no-nonsense. He’s pragmatic. He does not seek the limelight,” Obama said of McDonald.
McDonald vowed to carry out Obama’s promise to turn the VA – which a White House report found is mired in chronic failures and suffers from a “corrosive culture” among its employees – into a more efficient operation.
“If confirmed by the Senate, my priority would be to lead that transformation. My life’s purpose has been to improve the lives of others,” he said.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Leslie Adler)