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Veterans groups push Trump to keep VA Secretary McDonald

Veterans groups are pushing President-elect Donald Trump to keep current VA Secretary Bob McDonald on into the next administration, calling his transformation efforts critical to the future of the department.

Numerous prominent veterans organizations have voiced support for McDonald in recent weeks, but the push intensified Friday during a meeting with key community leaders and Trump administration officials, according to sources involved in the event.

McDonald's name was offered as the preferred candidate among rumored names, and the most likely to get widespread support from veterans groups.

Trump representatives did not reject the idea of keeping McDonald in his post past Inauguration Day, despite the incoming president's past criticism of the slow pace of change at VA under President Barack Obama.

Veterans groups want Trump to keep McDonald as VA chief

Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald believes the VA has improved in the past 2 years. 74% of veterans say they now get needed services — up from 65% a year earlier. President-Elect Donald Trump and other critics have attacked McDonald’s tenure at VA as a missed opportunity for real change. But leaders from veterans groups want Trump to keep McDonald as VA chief.

Veterans leaders have pushed back against some of that, largely praising McDonald’s work since VA Secretary Eric Shinseki was forced to resign in 2014 following revelations of patient wait-time cover-ups at multiple VA facilities.

McDonald’s accomplishments include a massive expansion in VA medical appointments, about 4 million more annually than in 2014. Veterans Health Administration statistics show drops in patient wait times for most illnesses.

Several lawmakers, including Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., have publicly endorsed the idea of Trump keeping McDonald as VA secretary.

One group that has voiced opposition for McDonald is Concerned Veterans for America, a conservative advocacy group with ties to the Koch brothers network of activist organizations.

They’ve attacked McDonald, a Democratic appointee but a longtime Republican supporter, for being too slow to implement outside care programs for veterans health care and for not being aggressive enough in rooting out misbehaving or criminal employees.

Among the other candidates being considered for the post are Pete Hegseth, a Fox News commentator and former president of CVA, and former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown. Both visited Trump in New York in recent weeks to talk about the post.

Current House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., is also on the list, although neither he nor McDonald have met with Trump.

In an interview with Military Times on Friday, McDonald said he does not know if he is being seriously considered for the post.

"When I got a call from the (Obama) White House in 2014, my personal purpose in life is to help others, so I jumped at the chance to serve," he said. "I have not been approached, and I’m making plans according to that. But service is important."

Retaining some members of the previous administration’s Cabinet is not unusual, even when the White House changes political parties. Obama kept Defense Secretary Bob Gates on in that role in 2009 despite an election campaign which promised major strategic changes for the U.S. military’s role overseas.

Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at lshane@militarytimes.com.

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