Robert Wilkie has been confirmed as the United States Secretary of Veteran Affairs as of July 10, 2018. An Air Force reservist, Wilkie is the son of an Army artillery commander and wounded veteran of the Vietnam War. Mr. Wilkie brings to the VA the experience of 30 years of working on national security and military issues. While in the Defense Department as Under Secretary, Wilkie advised the Secretary of Defense for Total Force Management about the National Guard’s training, personnel requirements, and health issues.

In his new position Wilkie faces the challenge of President Trump’s desire to afford veterans the option of using their benefits to see doctors in the private sector rather than at the VA hospitals. Since the President’s Choice Program was very costly, Wilkie proposes improvements to the Veterans Affairs, instead. Opposing privatization, he favors keeping the Veterans Health Administration well funded so it can provide veterans with all the health care that they need. Wilkie argues that taxpayer-funded community and private care should only be used when the VA is unable to meet a veteran’s needs.

When questioned about the possibility of interference from the White House as he seeks to restore the Department of Veterans Affairs, Wilkie seemed confident that he will be able to select his staff and propose policies that will be more adaptive to the current veterans while also being acceptable to the administration. Wilkie informed members of the Senate at his confirmation hearing of the need for modernization of the VA: “For the first time in 40 years, half of our veterans are under the age of 65. Of America’s 20 million veterans, 10 percent are now women. The new generation is computer savvy and demands 21st-century service — service that is quick, diverse and close to home.”

Although he opposes privatization, Wilkie does favor private and community care that is taxpayer funded but only if the VA cannot meet a veteran’s needs. His assurance that he will keep the Veterans Health Administration fully funded should provide the necessary care for most veterans. The VA, Wilkie reports, has increased from a $93.5 billion budget to the $198 billion which President Trump asked for this year. It also has a larger staff, having gone from 250,000 workers to nearly 360,000 in less than 10 years.