After nearly a 10-month wait, the Department of Veterans Affairs has a nominee to fill its second-highest leadership post.
On Friday, President Donald Trump formally named VA General Counsel James Byrne as his pick for the VA deputy secretary post, vacant since Thomas Bowman retired from the job last June. Byrne has served as the acting deputy secretary since last August.
The position was the highest ranking of multiple leadership vacancies within the department, including VA’s top health official. White House officials did not say whether they plan to name a new general counsel candidate to replace Byrne, or if he will continue to manage the responsibilities for both posts.
Byrne is a Naval Academy graduate who deployed overseas as a Marine infantry officer and later joined the Department of Justice as an international narcotics prosecutor. He also previously worked as an investigator with the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction before leaving government to work for the Lockheed Martin Corporation for several years.
Both his father and sons have also served in the military.
During his July 2017 confirmation hearing for the general counsel post, Byrne said he was activated as a reservist in 2004 to lead the Marine Corps Liaison Office at National Naval Medical Center in Maryland.
“The hearts and minds of men and women who returned home for medical care were, of course, always with their team members (still) engaged in combat,” he said. “This loyalty, service, and undying dedication had a profound effect on me, and drove home the profound importance of the mission of supporting these wounded warriors under my command and their families.”
In a statement, Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., praised the move and said he expects confirmation hearings on Byrne in coming weeks.
“The deputy secretary of the VA is responsible for working closely with the secretary to make sure the federal government’s second-largest Cabinet department is operating effectively, efficiently and in the best interest of our veterans,” he said. “I am glad to see Mr. Byrne nominated to serve in this critical role.”
Lawmakers have expressed concerns about the leadership vacancies in recent months, though White House officials have blamed the pace of filling those posts on Democratic senators moves to slow the confirmation process.
Bowman retired from his post shortly after the firing of VA Secretary David Shulkin. Twice in ensuing months, Trump passed over Bowman for the acting VA secretary job, instead nominating other federal officials amid reports that Bowman had fought with White House operatives on a host of policy issues.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.