New acting VA chief calls for respectful communication in first remarks

Matt Saintsing
April 04, 2018 - 1:21 pm

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The Department of Veterans Affairs new acting Secretary Robert Wilkie is entering his role at a turbulent time, but his message to VA employees is clear: Customer service is key.

Wilkie described his management philosophy to VA employees in a three-minute video Wednesday, encouraging VA employees to keep their eyes on the true mission, providing the best care possible for our nation’s veterans.

“Customer service must start with each other – not talking at each other, but with each other across all office barriers and across all compartments,” said Wilkie. “If we don’t listen to each other, we won’t be able to listen to our veterans and their families.”

Recognizing that his role is temporary, Wilkie said “I do not know how long I will be privileged to serve as the acting secretary,” as Ronny Jackson, The White House physician and President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the VA, awaits Senate confirmation.

Last week, Trump announced via Twitter that David Shulkin would no longer serve as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and nominated Jackson. He also announced that Wilkie, who previously worked as undersecretary of personnel and readiness at the Defense Department, would serve as acting secretary until Jackson is confirmed.

That decision has caused some vet groups to speak out.

Federal Law stipulates that the president can choose whomever he wants to fill a top agency job if the person holding that office “dies, resigns, or is otherwise unable to perform the functions and duties of office,” however, the law is less clear what happens if that person is fired, as Shulkin was.

By choosing Wilkie, Trump sidelined VA Deputy Secretary Thomas Bowman, something federal lawmakers and veterans groups are speaking out against.

AMVETS sent a letter to Trump on Tuesday calling on him to remove Wilkie and allow Bowman to take over the top post at VA, as is required by law. AMVETS also said they prefer Bowman as he has extensive experience at the VA, something they feel Wilkie lacks.

Wilkie begins the video describing his personal connection to the U.S. military. Wilkie is the son of a World War I veteran, and Wilkie himself has served as an officer both in the Navy and Air Force.