Washington, DC—As Veterans’ Day approaches, Senate Democratic leaders today issued the following letter to President Bush, urging him to quickly nominate a new Secretary of Veterans Affairs. With the military and VA stretched thin by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in light of mismanagement of veterans’ health care at facilities like Walter Reed, our veterans deserve able, permanent leadership.
Below is the text of the letter:
The Honorable George W. Bush
President of the United States
The White House
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Mr. President:
We are writing to express our serious concerns about the extended delay in nominating a qualified individual to serve as Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Secretary Nicholson tendered his resignation in mid-July and left his post at the end of September. As a result, the federal agency to which millions of veterans look for medical care, benefits and other services is now without a leader confirmed by the Senate.
It is important to note that when Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced his resignation on August 27, 2007, the White House named Judge Michael Mukasey as the nominee less than three weeks later. Our veterans, and the men and women who work at the Department of Veterans Affairs, are equally deserving of stable, permanent leadership and we are writing to urge you to immediately nominate a new Secretary of Veterans Affairs with a proven record of being an honest and independent advocate for veterans.
The absence of permanent, decisive leadership at the VA comes at a time when the agency needs strong, stable direction the most. From the enormous task of streamlining and improving the military and veterans disability systems, to implementing a joint electronic medical record, to caring for the large number of returning veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), the VA needs strong leadership to make the monumental changes to the VA system that our veterans deserve.
As you know, the VA system was stretched beyond capacity even before the current military action in Iraq and Afghanistan. Recently, serious questions have been raised about the manner in which the VA screens, hires and monitors physicians and other health care professionals who work at VA facilities. Long-term resolution of such issues cry out for strong leadership. It seems unconscionable that you would allow an agency that is so critical to the men and women who have put their lives on the line for this nation to go without a permanent leader.
While we feel you have an obligation to act quickly to name someone to this important post, you also have an opportunity to nominate someone with the judgment, experience and stature to move beyond the problems and scandals that have plagued the VA and restore confidence in this essential agency.
Much has been said over the last six years about honoring the service and the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform. But what matters to those who are fighting these wars is not the talk, but the actions we take. The lack of a qualified VA nominee more than three months after the resignation of the previous Secretary signals to our troops fighting today, to the veterans of wars past, and to the entire nation, that the Department of Veterans Affairs is not a priority for your administration.
We implore you to quickly nominate a Secretary who is a strong and independent advocate for veterans, so that we are truly able “To care for himwho shall have borne the battleand for his widow, and his orphan.”
Senator Harry Reid Senator Richard Durbin
Majority Leader Assistant Majority Leader
Senator Charles Schumer Senator Patty Murray
Vice Chairman Secretary
Democratic Conference Democratic Conference