Wilkie Nominated to be VA Secretary

Wilkie Nominated to be VA Secretary


Wilkie Nominated to be VA Secretary

By Debbie Gregory

President Donald Trump has announced that Acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie is his choice to head the department on a permanent basis. The president was speaking at a meeting on prison reform at the White House when he veered off topic to introduce Wilkie to the room.

Trump praised the job Wilkie has been doing since, and then surprised everyone, including Wilkie, with the announcement. But there is a possibility that Wilkie would have to step down first, due to a section of the U.S. Code that states an individual cannot serve as an acting secretary and at the same time be nominated to head a government agency.

The issue of Wilkie’s position as acting secretary of the Veterans Affairs and the potential legal hurdles he may face was raised by VoteVets, an advocacy group that works to give a voice to veterans on matters of national security, veterans’ care, and every day issues that affect the lives of those who served, and their families.

Wilkie, 55, the son of an Army Artillery officer, was born in Frankfurt, West Germany and grew up in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

He served in the United States Naval Reserve, according to his Defense Department biography.

He would later join the Air Force as a reserve officer and was assigned to the Office of the Chief of Staff, his biography said.

He holds masters in strategic studies from the United States Army War College. Wilkie is also a graduate of Wake Forest University, Georgetown University and Loyola University in New Orleans.

Wilkie still holds his job as undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness.

The VA serves nine million veterans annually with a staff of 360,000 employees and a budget of more than $186 billion.

Women Veterans Rock

vet of the day

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced the appointment of a new chairwoman and four new members to the Advisory Committee on Women Veterans, an expert panel that advises the VA Secretary on issues and programs of importance to women Veterans, their families and caregivers.

“As VA continues to work toward modernization, the committee’s guidance will assist the department in meeting the important and evolving needs of women Veterans,” said VA Secretary Dr. David J. Shulkin. “The new chairwoman and new appointees’ deep and broad perspectives are invaluable in anticipating these needs.”

Established in 1983, the committee provides policy and legislative recommendations to the Secretary.

Current member Octavia Harris, a retired U.S. Navy command master chief petty officer from San Antonio, Texas, is appointed as the new chairwoman of the committee.  The following are new members of the Advisory Committee on Women Veterans:

  • Moses McIntosh, of Hephzibah, Georgia, is a retired U.S. Army chief warrant officer and immediate past national commander of the Disabled American Veterans, where he served as the official spokesman and provided leadership to the National Executive Committee.
  • Yareli Mendoza, of Iowa City, Iowa, is a U.S. Air Force Veteran. She is pursuing a doctorate of philosophy degree in higher education and student affairs, with a specialization in higher education administration and policy.
  • Keronica Richardson, of Gaithersburg, Maryland, is a U.S. Army Veteran with deployments in support of operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. She serves as the assistant director for Women and Minority Veterans Outreach at the American Legion.
  • Wanda Wright, of Tempe, Arizona, is a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, currently serving as the director of the Arizona Department of Veterans Services, where she is a state cabinet member, providing leadership and direction for administering benefits and services to Veterans and their dependents.

In addition, committee members Dr. Kailyn Bobb, a U.S. Air Force Veteran, from Plumas Lake, California, and Commander Janet West, of the U.S. Navy, are reappointed for an additional term.

For information about VA’s benefits and services for women Veterans, visit or contact the Women Veterans Call Center at 855-829-6636.  The call center is available to address concerns of women Veterans, their families and caregivers from Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. (EST), and Saturday, 8 a.m.-6:30 p.m. (EST).

A Little About our VA Secretary Shulkin


By Debbie Gregory.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin may be an unlikely choice to overhaul veterans services. Although he is the son of an Army psychiatrist, for the first time, the head of the agency is not a veteran. His family has a history of military service and providing military medical care. Both his grandfathers served in World War I. And maybe most importantly, Dr. Shulkin, has spent a lifetime studying how to make health care organizations deliver better care at lower costs.

The entire U.S. Senate, all 100 Senators, voted to confirm Dr. Shulkin as President Trump’s VA Secretary. Prior to his confirmation as Secretary, Dr. Shulkin served as VA’s Under Secretary for Health for 18 months, leading the Nation’s largest integrated health care system, with over 1,700 sites of care serving nearly nine million Veterans.

While at the Medical College of Pennsylvania, Shulkin studied how to improve efficiency in health care management. Utilizing best practices resulted in saving money and patients.

Dr. Shulkin rose through top jobs there, at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia, at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York and eventually at Morristown Medical Center, in the affluent suburbs of northern New Jersey.

He is all for increasing reliance on private health care for routine procedures, like hearing aids, so it can focus on its core mission of caring for the wounded.

Shulkin, a board certified internist, has been extremely concerned about veteran suicide after a news report showed high rates among young combat veterans. In a September 2016 op-ed, Shulkin wrote, “Losing even one veteran to suicide is unacceptable, which is why suicide prevention is a top priority at VA.”

Dr. Shulkin has been named as one of the “50 Most Influential Physician Executives in the Country” by Modern Healthcare. He has also previously been named among the “One Hundred Most Influential People in American Healthcare.” He has been married to his wife, Dr. Merle Bari, for 29 years. They are the parents of two grown children.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Trump Taps Shulkin for VA Secretary


By Debbie Gregory.

President-elect Donald Trump has announced his intention to nominate David Shulkin as his secretary of veterans affairs.

Shulkin currently serves as the undersecretary for health at the VA. The new position requires Senate confirmation.

Shulkin is a board-certified internist. He served as the President and Chief Executive Officer of Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. He also served as President of Morristown Medical Center and the Atlantic Accountable Care Organization.

He has been Chief Medical Officer of the University of Pennsylvania Health System, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University Hospital, and the Medical College of Pennsylvania Hospital.

His other academic positions have included Chairman of Medicine and Vice Dean at Drexel University College of Medicine, and Professor of Medicine at Albert Einstein School of Medicine. Shulkin has been the editor of Journal of Clinical Outcomes Management and Hospital Physician, and has been on the editorial boards of several journals, including Journal of the American Medical Association.

Dr. Shulkin founded and served as the Chairman and CEO of DoctorQuality, Inc a consumer-oriented information service.

In a departure from the norm, Dr. Shulkin is not a veteran, breaking the pattern that the VA has previously established, having a veteran at the helm.

“I have no doubt Dr. Shulkin will be able to lead the turnaround our Department of Veterans Affairs needs,” Trump said in a statement following the announcement. “Dr. Shulkin has the experience and the vision to ensure we will meet the healthcare needs of every veteran.”

Trump considered a series of possible VA secretaries before deciding on Shulkin

“The first responsibility that we have to our veterans is to make sure those that need urgent care are getting care on time,” Shulkin said.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Lockheed Martin Exec a Possible VA Secretary Nominee


By Debbie Gregory.

President-elect Trump may be considering Lockheed Martin Senior Vice President Leo Mackay, Jr. to fill one of the few remaining cabinet posts, the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Trump has publicly sparred with Lockheed Martin in the past few weeks, arguing that the defense contractor wastes billions in tax dollars building F-35 fighter jets that are behind schedule and over-budget.

Mackay, who served as deputy VA secretary under President George W. Bush, met with the president-elect, and said that he and Trump had a “good discussion.”

He added that “things are progressing; we’ll keep having a conversation.”

“The president-elect is up on the issues and very concerned about the department and veterans issues,” Mackay said. “He’s a first-class veterans advocate and we had a good conversation.”

Other rumored contenders have included former Sen. Scott Brown, former House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller and Fox News contributor Pete Hegseth, who helped grow Concerned Veterans for America into an influential veterans’ advocacy group.

A 1983 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Mackay was born into a military family in San Antonio, Texas and grew up on, and around, military installations. He lived in Japan as a child and spent two years of high school in Tehran, Iran. He served in the Navy as a naval aviator. He completed pilot training in 1985, graduating at the top of his class. He spent three years in Fighter Squadron Eleven flying the F-14, attended Fighter Weapons School (Topgun), and compiled 235 carrier landings and 1,000 hours in the F-14. He also served as an instructor at the Naval Academy

The VA secretary search carries unusual significance for the Trump team given how intensely the president-elect focused on veterans issues during his campaign.

Trump regularly blasted the VA as a prime example of the Obama administration’s failures, especially when whistleblowers exposed the agency’s nationwide use of fake patient waiting lists to conceal long delays in health care in 2014.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Navy’s Adm. Howard a Possible Nominee for VA Secretary

michelle howard

By Debbie Gregory.

President-elect Donald Trump is considering Navy Adm. Michelle Howard to head the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Howard, who serves as the commander of U.S. Naval Forces in Europe, is accustomed to being among the first to brave the uncharted waters of diversity. In 1978, she was admitted into the U.S. Naval Academy; only the third academy class that accepted women. In 1999, she was among the group of five women chosen to be the first female combatant commanders in the U.S. Navy. This group included the first female to command a U.S. Navy warship, the late Captain Kathleen A. McGrath, who took command of the USS Jarrett (FFG-33) in December, 1998. A few months later, on March 12, 1999, Howard took command of the USS Rushmore (LSD-47).

In April 2009, Adm. Howard was just three days into her new job as head of a U.S. Navy task force charged with countering piracy in the Arabian Sea, when a cargo ship sailing under a U.S. flag was hijacked by pirates. Richard Phillips, the captain of the Maersk Alabama, was taken hostage in the waters southeast of Eyl, Somalia, and transferred to a small life raft; it was Howard’s job to get him back. She did, and the incident later inspired the 2013 movie Captain Phillips.

Earlier this week, a group of 20 veterans organizations sent a letter to Trump asking him to “strongly consider” keeping Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald.

The groups signing the letter included Got Your 6, AMVETS, Community Solutions, Give An Hour, Institute for Veterans & Military Families, Marine Corps Reserve Association, Military Child Education Coalition, Military Chaplains Association, National Association of Drug Court Professionals/Justice For Vets, National Association of Veteran-Serving Organizations, National Military Family Association, Veterans and Military Programs, Points of Light, Service Women’s Action Network, The Mission Continues, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, Travis Manion Foundation, Veteran Artist Program, Warrior-Scholar Project and Wounded Warrior Project, Inc.

Their letter said, “While you continue your deliberations over who you will select to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, we ask you to strongly consider the proven track record of the current VA Secretary, Bob McDonald, who is leading the largest transformation in the department’s history,” the groups said in the letter.

The groups said in the letter that McDonald led an agency-wide transformation of the VA, which is showing “early signs of success.”

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Military Connection: VA Memo to Employees: By Debbie Gregory

VA memoEarlier this month, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert McDonald sent a memorandum out to all VA employees, concerning the future of the VA and how he intends to implement reform within the troubled system.

Sec. McDonald’s message began by explaining how he has gone about his intelligence gathering. He explained that by hearing from Veterans and family members who receive the care that the department provides, he was better able to understand what and where efforts within the VA need to be ramped up. The VA head said that feedback from more than 2,000 VA employees from 20 facilities that provide healthcare service to more than 1.4 million Veterans has helped to shape the manner in which the VA system can retool its organizational functional practices to better serve Veterans.

The secretary asked for the cooperation of all VA employees to help with their shared mission to make the VA system easier to navigate for Veterans. McDonald said that he and all VA employees should purse a shared goal of ensuring that Veterans have a “clear understanding of VA and where to go for what they need within any of our facilities…”

In order to accomplish this goal and other reforms within the VA, Sec. McDonald laid out the following plan:

1)      Establish a new VA-wide customer service organization to provide top-rated customer service to Veterans.  McDonald plans to implement a new office for a Chief Customer Service Officer who will report directly to the VA Secretary.  The duties of this new position will be to drive VA culture and practices to understand and respond to the expectations of Veteran customers.

2)      Establish a single regional framework that will simplify internal coordination, enhance customer service and facilitate partnering. This collaborative effort within the VA will allow Veterans to more easily navigate the VA system without having to understand the bureaucratic structure of the department.

3)      Establish a national network of Community Veteran Advisory Councils to coordinate better service delivery with state and local community partners.

4)      Realign the VA’s internal business processes into a shared services model in which organizations across the department leverage the same support services, to improve efficiency, reduce costs and increase productivity.

McDonald also mentioned the activation of the Idea House website on Veterans Day. The website is intended to function as an electronic suggestion box where VA employees can submit their ideas and proposed solutions based on the challenges they see within their work environment.

This is a wonderful opportunity to greatly improve the VA system for the betterment of current Veterans, as well as for future generations of Veterans to come. Everyone in the Veteran community, as well as those who care about the Veteran community will be watching the VA secretary’s actions with apprehension and anticipation. As a people united, we all hope to see Veterans receive the best care available.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit, the go to site.

Military Connection: VA Memo to Employees: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: VA Secretary’s Letter to Vets: By Debbie Gregory

sec mcdonaldThe U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has been undergoing a tremendous transformation. It is the hope of every Veteran and every American who cares for Veterans that the changes currently being made within the department will improve the efficiency and quality of service for the men and women who served their country in uniform.

Back in August, the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 (commonly referred to as the “Choice Act”) was signed into law. The implementing of the Choice Act and other Veteran-centric legislation is paving the way for rapid long-term improvements to the VA and its healthcare system (VHA) and benefits department (VBA).

The VA’s Secretary, Robert McDonald, has been given the task of ensuring that all of the appropriate reforms are put into place. McDonald recently issued an open letter to America’s Veterans that maps out his plans to implement VA reform under the Veterans Choice Program.

The letter talks about how the VA has signed contracts with two private health care companies to assist with administering the Veterans Choice Program. As required by law, the Veterans Choice Program is in effect as of November 5, 2014, and allows some Veterans to receive healthcare in their local communities, rather than traveling to a VA facility, or waiting for a VA appointment. The VA has created a call center that is now operational, in order to answer any questions and verify eligibility for this program. The call center can be reached by dialing 1-877-222-VETS (8387). Additional information can be found on the VA’s web portal on the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act.

Sec. McDonald’s letter addresses the issuing of Veterans Choice Cards to all Veterans who are eligible for the benefit. The Choice Card will allow Veterans to elect to receive care outside of VA facilities when they qualify for the program. Qualification is either based on the distance of their residence from a VA care facility, or when the wait times for care at a VA facility exceed the standards established by law. The Choice Card does not replace the VA identification card already in use to access other VA benefits.

The letter explains that the Choice Card will be issued to eligible Veterans in three phases. The first group of Choice Cards, along with a letter explaining eligibility for the program were already sent to Veterans who may live more than 40 miles from the nearest VA facility. The next group of Choice Cards and letters will be sent shortly thereafter to Veterans who have been waiting for an appointment for more than 30days from their preferred date, or the date determined to be medically necessary by their physician. The third group of Choice Cards and letters will be sent between December 2014 and January 2015 to the remainder of all Veterans enrolled for VA health care who may be eligible for the Choice Program in the future.

It appears that Sec. McDonald is taking his responsibilities seriously, and not just offering lip service. Let us hope that reform continues to sweep across the VA and improve the delivery of healthcare and other benefits to Veterans.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit, the go to site.

Military Connection: VA Secretary’s Letter to Vets: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: New VA Sec. Confirmed: By Debbie Gregory

VA SecOn July 29, 2014, the Senate unanimously confirmed Robert McDonald as the next Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

By a vote of 97-0, the Senate approved President Obama’s nomination to head the VA. McDonald is tasked with the duty of repairing the integrity, efficiency and reputation of the VA.

McDonald takes over for Acting-Secretary Sloan Gibson, who has been temporarily running the VA since Gen. Eric Shinseki resigned on May 30th. The VA has been inundated by criticism in regards to the long wait-times for Veterans to receive healthcare, and the substantiated reports of employees conspiring to cover up the wait-times.

Hailing from Cincinnati, 61 year old McDonald is the former CEO of Procter &amp,amp,amp,amp, Gamble. As VA Secretary, he will be expected to address the short-cummings and  outright failures of the department. McDonald vowed to transform the VA, and said that improving Veterans’ access to healthcare will be a top priority for him.

Lawmakers, Veterans and Veteran advocates have all stated their agreement that McDonald faces a colossal task as VA Secretary. Not only will Sec. McDonald be expected to create transparency and accountability within the VA system, but he also faces the scores of other uphill battles that the VA is fighting.

The VA is still working to eliminate homelessness among Veterans, and to decrease its lengthy claims backlog. McDonald may receive aid for these bouts in the form of an estimated $17 billion VA reform bill that is expected to pass in Congress this week.

But even after Congress passes a bill, be it this summer ****or**** in the fall, McDonald is inheriting a VA that is coping with an intolerably high Veteran suicide rate, as well as scores of claims from wounded Veterans, including PTSD and those coping with sexual assaults.

McDonald has reported his plan to include improving communication within the VA, which includes more than 300,000 employees in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. As part of this plan, McDonald said that he will host frequent video conferences with employees, and travel to field offices around the country.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit, the go to site.

Military Connection: New VA Sec. Confirmed:   By Debbie Gregory