Veterans deserve a leader who will “tirelessly” fight for them, said Denis McDonough, President Joe Biden’s candidate for VA secretary, speaking to the Senate Veterans Committee today.
McDonough said caring for veterans and their families through the provision of health, welfare and cemetery services will be his guiding principle.
“President Biden gave me a clear mission: to be a bitter and staunch advocate for veterans and their families,” he said. “If this is confirmed, I will accept this assignment with the solemnity it demands.”
McDonough set five priorities that the president directed to focus his efforts if he was sustained as VA secretary.
The first priority that McDonough addressed is getting veterans through this pandemic. As the pandemic continues to claim veterans’ lives, he said the road ahead will not be easy.
“The Department of Veterans Affairs is facing major challenges – challenges that the coronavirus pandemic is making,” he said. “His skills are not always tailored to the needs of our veterans. If this is confirmed, I promise to fight every day to ensure that our veterans have access to the premium, compassionate care they deserve. “
McDonough listed four other priorities. This included helping veterans build a civil life with opportunities and education worthy of their skills, talents and service. He also said he wants all veterans, including female veterans, veterans of the color, and LGBTQ veterans, to feel welcome at VA. Finally, he plans to eradicate the homelessness of veterans and also mentions that reducing suicide is a high priority, as is trust in families and carers.
McDonough was previously the 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 direct work for military families and veterans.
“I understand how to unravel and solve large, complex challenges – both within and within large agencies,” he said. “I’ve seen firsthand that our government, when at its best, can help serve the American people – including our veterans – and enable them to live in safety and dignity.”
While not a veteran himself, McDonough previously said his Navy grandfather, World War II high school football coach, and the troops he met while visiting Walter Reed had inspired him.
“Above all, like every American, I owe great thanks to those who wore our nation’s shawl,” he said. “It would be a tremendous honor to serve our veterans and their families, carers and survivors through the VA leadership – to ensure that our nation serves our veterans as they have served us.”
McDonough applauded the sacrifices veterans and families make.
“When I visited our soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and coast guards at our bases in Afghanistan and Iraq, I saw the heavy burden of long missions outside their families,” he said. “Next to their hospital beds when they come home, I’ve seen their resilience to visible and invisible wounds that can last a lifetime. Standing in Dover, when our fallen heroes came home one last time, I saw the unimaginable grief of military families to whom we owe a debt that cannot be repaid and to which we stand forever. “
He also said veterans have an impact in other roles.
“Inside and outside the government, I was inspired by how our veterans continue to strengthen our communities and our country in uniform – as teachers, coaches, first responders and officials,” he said.
The VA secretary candidate said those who served had admitted the hearing.
“We can meet in peace and freedom today because generations of service members have stepped forward and sacrificed on our behalf,” said McDonough. “And while only a small percentage of Americans have served in our armed forces, the President has urged every American to take our responsibility for helping our veterans and their families.”