McDonald Stresses Integrity in First Message to VA Employees

By Bob Brewin // 4:04 PM ET

Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald
Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald // AP Photo

Robert McDonald, sworn in as secretary of Veterans Affairs yesterday, emphasized VA institutional values -- integrity, commitment, advocacy, respect and excellence -- in his first message to employees today.

In an oblique reference to the patient scheduling debacle that has roiled the agency since April, McDonald said: “I recognize that the last few months have been difficult—and the days ahead will not be easy. In fact, many tasks that we must accomplish will be difficult, but I assure you that I will be with you each step of the way."

He urged VA employees to come up with ideas to improve the department and warned he will not accept employees who lack integrity.

 “I want to hear your ideas for improving the department, and I will not tolerate those who stifle initiative, seek to punish people who raise legitimate concerns or report problems, or lack integrity in word or deed,” McDonald said. “Trust is essential in everything we do.”

McDonald Takes Over as VA Secretary Today

By Bob Brewin // July 30, 2014

Robert McDonald, secretary of the Veteran Affairs Department.
Robert McDonald, secretary of the Veteran Affairs Department. // Charles Dharapak/AP

Following his confirmation as secretary of Veterans Affairs by the Senate yesterday, Robert McDonald will be sworn in this afternoon at what looks to me like at a low-key ceremony at VA HQ rather than at the White House with President Obama.

VA spokeswoman Victoria Dillon could not provide me with any details on McDonald’s plans for his first full day in office at this time – including whether he plans to follow through with a pledge made at his confirmation hearing to communicate with all VA employees via a videocast his first day on the job.

Senate Expected to Confirm McDonald as VA Secretary Today

By Bob Brewin // July 29, 2014

Veterans Affairs Secretary nominee Robert McDonald
Veterans Affairs Secretary nominee Robert McDonald // AP Photo

The Senate will consider the nomination of former Procter & Gamble CEO, Robert McDonald, to be the next secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs with a floor vote at 2:45 p.m. today following an hour of debate.

The vote comes a day after the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee announced agreement on a $17 billion bipartisan VA reform bill.  

Based on praise McDonald received from both sides of the aisle at his confirmation hearing last Tuesday, and near-universal endorsement by the major veterans’ service groups, such as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, the vote to confirm him should be close to unanimous.

Sometimes -- even in the Senate -- things are simple. 

A Drawback of the House-Senate VA Bill? Congress Can’t Create Doctors

By Bob Brewin // July 28, 2014

Yevhen Vitte/

Legislation announced today by the Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs Committees aims to solve the wait-time crisis that has bedeviled veterans for years by providing $10 billion for vets, who live 40 miles from a Department of Veterans Affairs facility, to get treatment from private clinicians.

There’s one problem with this approach. The entire country, not just VA, faces a shortage of primary care physicians. About 20 percent of Americans live in rural areas with too few doctors, and the shortage will grow to 45,000 nationally by 2020, according to Kaiser Health News.

I live in rural New Mexico, which has a shortage of more than 200 primary care doctors, and no matter what Congress wants or dictates, that shortfall will not be fixed overnight.

The good primary care docs here where I live in (the original) Las Vegas, New Mexico, are not taking new patients anymore, and I have no desire to turn over my health care to a dangerous doc -- something Congress also did not consider.

I would rather see the $10 billion allocated for private care go to beefing up the staff of the 15 VA clinics in New Mexico.

(Image via Yevhen Vitte/Shutterstock ...

Did a Misplaced Glove Cause Nuke Waste Dump Fire?

By Bob Brewin // July 25, 2014

Thomas Herbert/AP

A glove accidentally left in a drum of nuclear waste may have been responsible for rupturing the container leading to the spewing of radiation in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, New Mexico, in February.

That’s according to a new report this week filed by Patrick Malone of the Santa Fe New Mexican

Nan Sauer, associate director for chemistry, life and Earth sciences at Los Alamos National Laboratory, told the New Mexico Legislature’s Radioactive and Hazardous Materials Committee the container “held a volatile mix: a lead-laden glove, highly acidic waste, organic kitty litter and trace metal residue,” which ripped open the container stored in the WIPP – the country’s only storage site for waste generated during the development of nuclear weapons.  

Ryan Flynn, secretary for the New Mexico Environment Department, said “these were materials that were mixed that should not have been mixed together.”

In May, the department theorized the use of organic rather than ordinary cat litter – which is used to help neutralize the contents of the waste drums – may have caused the rupture.