U.S. Senator Jon Tester is urging VA Secretary nominee Robert Wilkie to steer clear of political interest groups and do what’s right for veterans if confirmed for the job.
In a confirmation hearing held Wednesday before the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Tester urged Wilkie to bring courage, honesty and integrity to the post, and take his marching orders from the nation’s veterans.
“My only advice to you is to take your cues from veterans and do what you think is right,” Tester told Wilkie. “I want you to succeed – I really do. And veterans across this country need you to succeed.”
Tester, ranking member of the committee, has seen more than eight VA bills signed into law this year, including an extension to the G.I. Bill and a measure intended to simplify the disability appeals process.
Tester also joined Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., in postponing former nominee Ronny Jackson’s confirmation hearing after colleagues raised concerns over alleged misconduct in the workplace.
Jackson withdrew his nomination in April, prompting President Donald Trump to target Tester in a series of tweets. With support from Montana veterans, Tester stood his ground, saying it was the Senate’s job to fully vet cabinet nominees.
On Wednesday, Tester carried that message forward, urging Wilkie to stay clear of politics. Senior VA leaders and experts are leaving the agency “in droves” due to inappropriate political pressure, he added.
“We’re seeing political interest groups given a seat at the table instead of veterans,” Tester said. “I hope you agree that this type of behavior undermines the VA’s mission to serve the millions of veterans who rely on the VA. The VA has larger challenges ahead. It simply cannot afford to get weighed down by unforced errors.”
Last month, both Tester and Sen. Steve Daines, R-Montana, welcomed Wilkie as Trump’s new nominee.
“Robert is a friend and I know he will do what it takes to put our veterans first in a department that has not been giving our heroes the treatment they deserve,” Daines said. “I look forward to putting my full support behind his nomination to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs.”