Wilkie named new VA secretary

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Monday confirmed Pentagon official Robert Wilkie to be secretary of Veterans Affairs, charged with delivering on President Donald Trump’s campaign promises to fire bad VA employees and steer more patients to the private sector.

Wilkie won appro­val on a bipartisan vote of 86-9, securing the backing of many Democrats after insisting at his confirmation hearing that he will not privatize the government’s second-largest de­part­ment. It was a moment of respite from the sharp political divisions engulfing Trump’s other nominees in the final months before congressional midterm elections.

Wilkie is Trump’s third pick for the job in 18 months. The longtime public official says he will “shake up complacency” at VA, which has struggled with long waits in providing medical treatment to millions of veterans.

Trump selected Wilkie for the post in May after firing his first VA secretary, David Shulkin, amid ethics charges and internal rebellion at the department over the role of private care for veterans. Trump’s initial replacement choice, White House doctor Ronny Jackson, withdrew after allegations of workplace misconduct surfaced.

Wilkie, a former assistant secretary of defense under President George W. Bush, has received mostly positive reviews from veterans’ groups for his management experience, but the extent of his willingness to expand private care as an alternative to government-run VA care remains largely unknown.