The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Joshua Jacobs as the next permanent head of Veterans Affairs’ benefits operations, filling the key department leadership post for the first time in more than two years.
The 74-25 vote finalizing Jacobs’ appointment came after a month of extra drama surrounding his nomination, with approval stalled by a key Republican over long-running disputes with the Biden administration’s running of the department. It was just the latest in a series of nomination fights between party leaders that shows how heightened partisanship on Capitol Hill is delaying the business of government.
Jacobs has served as the acting VA Under Secretary of Benefits since last July, and received no significant criticism during his confirmation hearing earlier this year. But in a surprise move last month, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, announced he would block Jacob’s nomination “because of VA’s lack of transparency on critical issues and Mr. Jacobs’ evasive answers on a number of my questions.” The decision forced Senate leaders to schedule a full chamber vote instead of fast-tracking the confirmation approval.
Grassley listed multiple ongoing whistleblower cases as the reason for his block, including one concerning conflict of interest issues involving a former senior VA advisor, one on VA’s handling of privacy data, and one on the firing of a whistleblower by a senior VA leader in 2021.
Those concerns failed to dissuade most chamber lawmakers from backing Jacobs, especially the Democrats. Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee member Patty Murray, D-Wash., during a Monday floor speech called Jacobs “exceptionally qualified” for the post and said his time as acting benefits chief “shows his deep commitment to serving those who served our nation.”
The Under Secretary for Benefits oversees non-medical veterans benefits issues, delivering about $135 billion in services and benefits annually. That work includes disability compensation benefits to nearly 6 million veterans, and involves supervising more than 25,000 benefits employees.
Jacobs was the White House’s second choice for the leadership post. The first nominee, Ray Jefferson, last summer withdrew his name from consideration after months of inaction on his nomination. Several Republican lawmakers had raised concerns about his previous work leading the Veterans Employment and Training Service.
Wednesday’s vote put Senate-confirmed officials in four of the department’s top five leadership posts, with VA’s deputy secretary post currently vacant. Current VA Chief of Staff Tanya Bradsher has been nominated for that job.
All five posts have not been occupied by Senate-confirmed individuals since early 2017, before the start of President Donald Trump’s term in office.
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.