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Veterans groups: 'We cannot afford to start over' with new VA leadership

A coalition of 20 veterans groups on Wednesday upped their efforts to keep Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald on into the next administration, warning President-elect Donald Trump that "we cannot afford to start over" given department reform progress in recent years.


"These efforts to transform and modernize the VA are showing early signs of success in the form of a better veteran experience and, if continued, we believe they have the potential to eventually make VA a model agency," group members said in a letter to the incoming commander in chief.

"It is therefore of the utmost importance that you select someone willing and able to continue prioritization of this work. We believe that person is Sec. McDonald."

The push, lead by officials at Got Your 6, includes signatures from the leaders at AMVETS, the Marine Corps Reserve Association, the National Military Family Association, Wounded Warrior Project and others.

Last week, members of the six largest veterans groups met with Trump's VA transition team and also pushed for serious consideration of McDonald to stay on in the role.

Bill Rausch, executive director of Got Your 6, said the latest letter is designed not to signal any dissatisfaction with the incoming administration, but to let Trump know that they see recent improvements as connected to his promises to clean up the department.

"We're not sure (Trump) knows the current secretary shares many of the same goals," he said. "Based on the criteria he put forward in his campaign, we're trying to highlight to him that Bob McDonald is the right man."

The letter states that transforming VA "will take a continuous commitment from leadership over the course of many years. As you make your selection for VA Secretary, then, we advocate for an approach that recognizes and builds upon current progress."

Keeping a cabinet secretary from a previous administration -- even from a different political party -- is infrequent but not unusual. When President Barack Obama took office in 2009, he kept Defense Secretary Bob Gates on in that role from President George W. Bush’s administration.

One group that has actively pushed back against the idea of retaining McDonald is Concerned Veterans for America, which has repeatedly attacked the 63-year-old Army veteran as took slow to implement health care reforms and unwilling to discipline misbehaving VA employees.

Other candidates being considered for the post in Trump’s administration 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 job.

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

McDonald has hinted he would be open to staying on the job, but has said he has not been contacted by president-elect thus far.

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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