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Obama's pick for VA chief vows to fix 'systematic failures'

'Taking care of veterans is very personal,' says VA nominee Robert McDonald, a former Army captain
Obama's nominee for VA secretary vows to fix system's failures and hold workers responsible for misconduct

President Obama's nominee to take over the Department of Veterans Affairs promised Tuesday to fix "systematic failures" at the troubled agency and hold government workers accountable for their misconduct.

Former Procter & Gamble Chief Executive Robert McDonald told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee that, if confirmed, he would work to identify VA employees who participated in schemes to cover up long wait times for patient care.

"Those employees that have violated the trust of the nation and of veterans must be, and will be, held accountable," McDonald said at his confirmation hearing. "If you don't want people in your community lying, you don't tolerate them lying."

McDonald, a West Point graduate, noted that he comes from a military family and told lawmakers that "taking care of veterans is very personal." He served five years in the Army and rose to the rank of captain in the 82nd Airborne Division.

He would replace Eric K. Shinseki, who resigned as Veterans Affairs secretary in May after an audit found that veterans had to wait months for medical appointments and that VA medical centers were covering up the delays.

McDonald said veterans' care would be at the center of his 90-day plan to set the agency back on track. Last week, acting VA Director Sloan Gibson told Congress that the agency needed $17.6 billion in additional funds over the next three years to meet patients' needs. A separate, comprehensive VA reform bill appears to have stalled in Congress, with Republicans balking at the price tag.

"The seriousness of this moment demands action," McDonald said. "My charge will be to provide veterans the care they have earned in the most effective way possible."

McDonald said he had already started making calls to veterans' service organizations and planned to travel to healthcare facilities around the country during his first several months to hear directly from veterans and other stakeholders.

McDonald cruised through Tuesday's hearing and is expected to be easily confirmed by the full Senate.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the committee chairman, said he was impressed by McDonald's military and business backgrounds, both of which Sanders said were needed to address the VA's problems.

"There is no question that we need good quality management," Sanders said. "We need transparency. We need accountability. And I believe Mr. McDonald's corporate experience will give him the tools that he needs to create a well-run and accountable VA."

Sen. Richard M. Burr (R-N.C.) urged McDonald to "usher in a new culture throughout VA. … My hope and expectation, Mr. McDonald, is that you will not allow VA to ignore the signs of deep dysfunction."

rebecca.bratek@latimes.com

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