The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

July 2, 2014

New VA secretary nominee not a health care expert

WASHINGTON (AP) — A onetime Army Ranger and former CEO of a Fortune 500 consumer products company, Robert McDonald may face his toughest challenge yet in fixing the huge, scandal-plagued Veterans Affairs Department.

Veterans groups worry that the longtime corporate executive, nominated by President Barack Obama to lead the VA, may have trouble adjusting to a far-flung bureaucracy of more than 300,000 employees, where hundreds of hospital directors and other career executives wield great power far from the agency's Washington headquarters.

"Procter & Gamble is going to feel like a Ferrari compared to the VA," said Paul Rieckhoff, CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

A year after he was forced out as P&G's CEO, McDonald, 61, was tapped by Obama this week to overhaul an agency reeling from revelations of widespread treatment delays and falsified records to cover up months-long waits for appointments.

The White House released a scathing report last week, saying the VA was battling a "corrosive culture" of distrust, lacks resources and was ill-prepared to deal with an influx of new and older veterans with a range of medical and mental health needs. The agency serves nearly 9 million veterans with an annual budget of $154 billion, one of the largest in the federal government.

"The VA is a large and troubled organization," said Robert Bies, a management professor at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business. "What's really missing is management of the culture. You have to have someone who can manage complex organizations, and (McDonald) has a track record of doing that."

Some veterans groups question McDonald's selection, saying they were not consulted about the choice and were not familiar with McDonald, a West Point graduate who has been out of the military for more than 30 years. More importantly, the groups say, McDonald has no direct health care experience — a crucial deficiency as he takes over an agency that treats veterans suffering from a multitude of war-related physical and mental injuries and illnesses.

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