An influential member of the U.S. Senate The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee chairman wants Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald to stay on in that role next year, no matter who becomes president.
"Everything I've seen with Bob McDonald over the last 16 months, I've been very pleased with," said Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., in an interview for C-SPAN's "Newsmakers" taped Thursday. Isakson chairs the Senate Veterans Affairs Comittee. "I would certainly hope he would stay for continuity purposes, or the next president would pick him to stay.
"The main thing we need at VA is continuity and commitment. Bob McDonald is a veteran, he ran a large business, he's committed to the I-CARE program at VA. I want to make sure that goes through, and I would recommend him."
Isakson’s comments stem from questions about the presidential candidates’ VA reform proposals on the presidential campaign trail. While on the campaign trail, several have labeled the department a failure and a disgrace, and called for a massive downsizing and outsourcing of VA programs.
Isakson said his committee is looking at ways to expand outside care programs so veterans have quick access to treatment, but he rejected calls for privatization of key department functions and dismantling the system.
Sen. Johnny Isakson, who chairs the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, questions VA Secretary Robert McDonald during a hearing on Jan. 21.
Photo Credit: Daniel Woolfolk/Staff
"The preponderance of veterans I talk to love their VA care and want to keep it," he said. "They don't want it to be replaced or taken away from them. I don't find a lack of enthusiasm for VA among veterans."
When asked about specific candidates, Isakson said committee activities under his predecessor, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont., were "not as active as they should have been" in oversight on a host of department problems but credited him with helping push through the massive Choice Card legislation in 2014.
He also called VA criticisms of the department from Republican frontrunner Donald Trump off-base and misinformed.
"I don't know that he has served or used any VA services, so I think he is regurgitating what he's hearing in the press," he said. "A lot of the things being reported are things that happened before I came along or Secretary McDonald came along. … The VA is making substantial changes."
Isakson said he expects that work to continue with a new veterans omnibus package later this year, rolling together a host of proposed health and benefits reform proposals.
Whether that legislation will include VA plans to overhaul the benefits appeals process remains to be seen. Isakson said he supports working on changes to that system, but is not sure there will be enough time to reach compromise on a new plan this year.
The full C-SPAN interview will air Sunday at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Eastern.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.