Washington, US | May 18.- President Donald Trump said Friday he has chosen Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie to permanently lead the beleaguered department, a surprise announcement that appeared to catch Wilkie off guard.
Wilkie, a former Pentagon undersecretary for personnel and readiness, has led the department since Trump fired David Shulkin in March amid an ethics scandal and mounting rebellion within the building.
Trump revealed his decision during a prison reform event at the White House, and said it was a surprise to Wilkie. “He doesn’t know this yet — that we’re going to be putting his name up for nomination to be secretary of the veterans’ administration,” Trump said.
Trump previously nominated White House physician Dr. Ronny Jackson, but Jackson abruptly withdrew last month.
Wilkie, 56, oversaw a new Pentagon policy aimed at stemming harassment in the military after an online nude-photo sharing scandal rocked the Marine Corps. He was confirmed unanimously as Pentagon undersecretary by the Senate.
As acting VA secretary, Wilkie has sought to rebuild morale at a department beset with inner turmoil and rebellion over Trump’s push to expand private care. On Thursday, he announced a major $10 billion contract with Cerner Corp. to overhaul electronic health records for millions of veterans, a 10-year project that aims to improve mental health care and ease access to private providers.
Wilkie’s selection reflects Trump’s desire to have a steady hand leading the government’s second-largest department following the abrupt withdrawal by Jackson, who had no experience managing a large workforce. At the Pentagon, Wilkie led the government’s largest department with more than 700,000 employees.
Veterans groups expressed support for Wilkie’s nomination.