The White House announced that its new nominee for Secretary of Veterans Affairs would be Robert Wilkie. Wilkie has been the acting VA Secretary since the firing of David Shulkin several weeks ago and the failed nomination of the president’s personal physician Ronny Jackson, who dropped out of the running amid allegations of misconduct. Sen. Johnny Isakson, chair of Senate Veterans Affairs Committee – and a Republican from Georgia – praised the nomination.
Wilkie’s nomination came as a surprise, even to Wilkie himself, but he has received praise for his work on veterans’ issues from veteran groups and White House insiders, alike. Although Isakson said he was “excited” about the nomination, he noted that his optimism was tempered with caution and he was anxious to avoid the types of issues the VA Committee encountered with Jackson’s nomination.
Wilkie is the son of an Army artillery commander. He also saw service himself as a Navy intelligence officer before moving into the Pentagon. There, Wilkie served as a senior staffer under two Secretaries of Defense, Robert Gates and Donald Rumsfeld. Although his military credentials are clear, where he stands on issues like privatization of certain veteran benefits is not.
Along with the possible new VA secretary, the Department of Veterans Affairs also announced a new benefits czar. Paul R. Lawrence, a former Army captain and a graduate of the airborne school, assumed the position of Under Secretary of Benefits, as of May 15. In addition, Thomas J. Murphy will be the new Midwest Area Director for the Veterans Benefits Administration and Margarita Devlin will be the VBA’s new Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Benefits.