The Senate voted on Monday to confirm Robert Wilkie as Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary by a vote of 86-9, solidifying top leadership at VA in the midst of ongoing change and uncertainty at the second-largest Federal agency.
Wilkie had been serving as VA Secretary in an acting role before President Trump surprised many when he announced that Wilkie would be his new choice to permanently lead the department. Wilkie’s selection for the post followed the failed nomination of White House physician Ronny Jackson.
The previous VA Secretary, David Shulkin, endured an extended period of job uncertainty, with many speculating about his fate before President Trump announced that Shulkin would be leaving the VA on March 28. With that saga unfolding, VA’s $10-billion Electronic Health Record (EHR) Modernization contract–which Shulkin first proposed– hung in the balance.
But Wilkie, serving as acting secretary, announced the signing of the long-awaited contract on May 17. During his Senate confirmation hearing, Wilkie declared the EHR modernization–and IT modernization more broadly–as among his top priorities. The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee established a new subcommittee on July 12 to provide oversight of the EHR rollout, citing costs that could reach $16 billion over ten years.
Wilkie’s Senate confirmation hearing took place June 27. He was approved by the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee on July 10, sending the nomination to Monday’s full Senate vote.
Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, urged Wilkie’s confirmation in a statement on July 19. And prior to Monday’s vote on the Senate floor, Isakson referenced the bipartisan support Wilkie had garnered, and spoke of an opinion shared with the committee’s ranking member, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.
“We’re excited because we know Robert Wilkie is the real deal,” Isakson said. “We no longer want somebody who’s going to make excuses for the VA, we want somebody who’s going to make a difference at the VA. Robert Wilkie will make a difference.”
Isakson lauded Wilkie as someone who understands the distinct needs of veterans, such as those in disconnected rural areas and those who struggle with mental health concerns. Isakson said that Wilkie knows the Senate has “given him a quiver of arrows, that he can use as he hunts through the VA, to root out the bad players, and lift the big players.”
“Mr. Wilkie has experience and a strong commitment to veterans and their families that should serve our men and women in Montana and across our nation,” said Tester in a statement following the confirmation. “By confirming Mr. Wilkie, we do right by the millions of veterans who look to the VA for the health care and benefits they earned in service to our nation.”