The Senate confirmed Robert Wilkie Monday to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, the US government’s second largest department.
Wilkie, who has been serving as the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness for the Department of Defense, is an Air Force Reserve officer that previously served in the Navy Reserve with the Joint Forces Intelligence Command, Naval Special Warfare Group Two and the Office of Naval Intelligence. He also brings another perspective to his new position as a former military dependent growing up at Fort Bragg, NC where his father was an Army artillery commander.
“I have been privileged to see this military life from many angles; as a dependent; as the son of a gravely wounded combat soldier; as an officer with a family in the military health care system and as a senior leader in the White House and the Pentagon,” Wilkie stated during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Reaction to confirmation
Several veterans’ groups reacted positively to today’s confirmation. Paul Rieckhoff, Founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) – a non-partisan organization for post-9/11 veterans, expressed optimism that the priorities of veterans can now be put back into focus.
“We finally have a Secretary after months of disruption, controversy and leadership changes. Now the hard work for Mr. Wilkie and the President begins. Big promises must be followed by big outcomes. We expect and deserve to see results right away. After decades of empty promises and failed results, our members are rightfully skeptical now about VA’s ability to make the changes we need quickly – especially in such a divisive political environment, he stated.
Rieckhoff called on Wilkie to swiftly take action on the top priorities of IAVA members, which are:
1) Combat suicide among troops and veterans
2) Recognize and improve services for women veterans
3) Defend veteran and military education benefits
4) Defend and reform government support for today’s veterans
5) Support injuries from burn pits and other toxic exposures
6) Empower veterans who want to utilize cannabis
AMVETS, a Congressionally-chartered veterans service organization, views Wilkie’s confirmation as an opportunity for the VA to regain stability.
“Since being named acting secretary in March, Robert Wilkie has reached out to veteran service organizations and worked closely with the White House to learn and address the challenging issues faced by the VA,” said AMVETS Executive Director Joe Chenelly. “His Senate confirmation today means that the nation’s 20 million veterans have regained a VA that has the consistency of leadership and vision that taking proper care of our nation’s veterans requires.”
President Trump nominated Wilkie in May after the controversial exit of former secretary Dr. David Shulkin. The president released the following statement about Monday’s vote:
“I applaud the United States Senate for confirming Robert Wilkie as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Mr. Wilkie has dedicated his life to serving his country with honor and pride. He has displayed great patriotism and a commitment to supporting and empowering America’s armed forces and veterans. Under his leadership, I have no doubt that the Department of Veterans Affairs will continue to make strides in honoring and protecting the heroic men and women who have served our Nation with distinction,” Pres. Trump said in a released statement.