WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's nominee for the second-highest spot at the Department of Veterans Affairs believes one of the top challenges facing bureaucrats there is winning back veterans' trust.
Thomas Bowman, a Marine Corps veteran who previously served as majority staff director for the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, spoke before that panel during his confirmation hearing Wednesday and pledged to help continue the "transformation" of the department promised by Trump and VA Secretary David Shulkin.
"While there are significant challenges confronting the VA, I believe one of the most pervasive is regaining the trust of veterans, their families and the American people," he said. "The (2014 wait time scandal) and other scandals … seriously undermined the trust and confidence in VA.
"It is clear the American people are committed to maintaining and enhancing the VA. They trust that the president, the Congress, and the VA secretary will do so by confronting and resolving the challenges collaboratively."
More than three years after former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki was forced to resign from his post amid accusations of secret VA hospital wait lists and widespread improprieties among senior leaders, department officials are still struggling with the public perception of the massive health and benefits system.
Both Shulkin and his predecessor, VA Secretary Bob McDonald, promised widespread changes but have also cautioned lawmakers about denigrating the department. In February, just weeks after being confirmed, Shulkin said the constant negative press "breaks down their confidence in the system."
Bowman said that he believes the new administration has already produced positive changes within VA, and is hopeful that will help restore faith in the system.
"The transformation will ensure that the bedrock goals of providing the highest quality health care, compensating and addressing service connected disabilities, providing supportive services and programs … preventing veteran suicide; and providing and maintaining a final resting place that honors and respects their service to our country are maintained," he said.
Bowman was one of six nominees being considered by the committee on Wednesday. The list also included Brooks Tucker, picked to be assistant secretary of Veterans Affairs for legislative affairs; James Byrne, picked to be general counsel for the department; and three veterans claims appeals court judges.
All six are expected to be easily confirmed by the Senate. Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson said would move to pass the nominees out of committee on Thursday.
So far this year, only one Trump nominee for VA leadership has been approved by the Senate. That one was Shulkin, who was approved 100-0.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.