Trump Continues Search for VA Secretary

President-elect meets with chair of VA Commission on Care, Lockheed Martin executive

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President-elect Donald Trump continued his search for a candidate to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs this week, meeting with at least two choices for the job.

Nancy Schlichting, who recently retired from her position as CEO of the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, met with Trump on Thursday at Trump Tower in New York City. Schlichting chaired the Commission on Care, an independent panel established by Congress following the 2014 wait list controversy to develop recommendations to improve the VA's network of medical facilities.

Trump also met with Leo Mackay Jr., senior vice president of Lockheed Martin Corporation, on Tuesday. Mackay, a former naval aviator, served as deputy secretary of Veterans Affairs from 2001 to 2003 under George W. Bush.

Crain's Detroit Business, citing sources at the Henry Ford Health System, reported Friday that Schlichting's motivation for meeting with Trump was to share her opinions about the Commission on Care report. The report said she would not take the VA secretary job if offered it.

The commission released its final assessment of the VA in July, proposing more private options and the creation of a new board of directors to achieve "transformation" across the VA hospital network. A pair of dissenting members of the commission refused to endorse the final report because they believed the final recommendations did not go far enough. The Obama administration embraced most of the commission's 18 proposals.

Schlichting supported Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election, contributing $25,000 to the Hillary Victory Fund in August, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Two reported leading contenders for VA secretary—Toby Cosgrove, CEO of the Cleveland Clinic, and Luis Quinonez, president of MAQ Diversified—have both withdrawn their names from consideration in recent days.

Early on, Trump was rumored to be looking at former Sen. Scott Brown (R., Mass.) and Pete Hegseth, a Fox News contributor and former CEO of Concerned Veterans for America, for the position. Former Republican congressman Jeff Miller, the last chair of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin also were floated as potential choices.

Reports in December indicated that Trump was mulling Navy Adm. Michelle Howard and retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen as potential choices for the cabinet position.

Veterans services organizations have pressured Trump to keep Robert McDonald, Obama's current VA secretary, who was installed at the department after Eric Shinseki's resignation in 2014. The VA has been criticized under McDonald, as investigations have exposed continuing management and access problems at agency hospitals.

Trump has unveiled a 10-point plan to reform the VA, drawing on a number of proposals already offered by Republicans in Congress. Trump plans to weed out VA employees for poor performance or misconduct, improve veterans' mental health care, and allow every veteran to seek care outside the VA at private hospitals if they choose.

Trump's transition team did not address the ongoing search for VA secretary during a press call with reporters on Friday morning, two weeks before Inauguration Day.

Morgan Chalfant   Email Morgan | Full Bio | RSS
Morgan Chalfant is a staff writer at the Washington Free Beacon. Prior to joining the Free Beacon, Morgan worked as a staff writer at Red Alert Politics. She also served as the year-long Collegiate Network fellow on the editorial page at USA TODAY from 2013-14. Morgan graduated from Boston College in 2013 with a B.A. in English and Mathematics. Her Twitter handle is @mchalfant16.