Getting the VA to change a tall task

U.S. senators considering whether to confirm former Procter & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald as the new head of the Department of Veterans Affairs have two important tasks to accomplish during the next couple of weeks.

First, as they question McDonald during hearings, they should determine whether he understands what needs to be done to put VA health care back on the right track.

After President Barack Obama nominated him, McDonald said he believes “the veteran is our customer and we must all focus all day, every day on getting them the benefits and care that they have so earned.”

So far, so good. But what about specifics? What is McDonald’s plan to change a VA culture that appears to have centered on making the numbers look good, even if that requires lying about them, instead of on serving veterans?

Senators’ second task – more important than the first – is to assure McDonald that if he takes on the VA bureaucracy, Congress will support him.

That will not be easy. Many VA bureaucrats, along with the agency’s employee union, wield enormous political power.

But unless lawmakers make it clear the new VA head has a mandate, nothing will change – except, of course, that the agency will spend more money.