Trump to nominate acting VA Secretary Wilkie to permanently head the agency

Joking that he “ruined the surprise,” the President made the announcement at the White House prison reform summit Friday afternoon.
By Jessica Davis
02:28 PM
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Trump shakes hands with acting VA secretary Wilkie at White House

President Donald Trump shakes hands with Robert Wilkie after nominating him to be next Veterans Affairs Secretary on Friday. Photo by Mark Wilson, Getty Images

President Donald Trump plans to nominate acting U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie to permanently lead the agency, the President announced on Friday at the White House summit on prison reform.

The news will come as a surprise to Wilkie, as the President hadn’t even told him before the announcement.

“Wilkie, who, by the way, has done an incredible job at the VA” said Trump. “I’ll be informing him in a little while — 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. Fantastic. I’m sorry that I ruined the surprise.”

The President also applauded the agency’s moves to expand the VA Choice and accountability programs.

The nomination comes just three weeks after Trump’s first nominee former White House physician Ronny Jackson withdrew his nomination amid the emergence of workplace controversies.

Currently, Wilkie is the Department of Defense Undersecretary for personnel and readiness. Trump pulled him into the role after the President fired former VA Secretary David Shulkin, MD. The move came as a surprise, as Trump sidestepped Deputy Secretary Thomas Bowman -- next in line to the position.

In fact, two veterans groups sued the VA over what they argue was Trump’s ‘unlawful’ choice. While that lawsuit is still pending, it remains to be seen how those groups will view the most recent nomination.

While another large veterans group AMVETS initially urged Trump to reconsider his choice, they’ve since changed their tune.

“Wilkie has clearly been working hard to learn the many extremely complicated and most pressing issues facing veterans right now,” AMVETS Executive Director Joe Chenelly said in a statement. “His early work has earned him the confidence of AMVETS, and we’re looking forward to a thorough but hopefully speedy confirmation process.”

The VA just announced it will officially sign a $10 billion EHR modernization contract with Cerner, nearly a year after Shulkin said the agency planned to build an EHR to match DoD.

Twitter: @JessieFDavis
Email the writer: jessica.davis@himssmedia.com