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Biden Selects Denis McDonough As VA Secretary

Denis McDonough, pictured in September 2018, is expected to be named President-elect Joe Biden's pick to run the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Riccardo Savi
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Getty Images for Concordia Summi
Denis McDonough, pictured in September 2018, is expected to be named President-elect Joe Biden's pick to run the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Updated at 2:25 p.m. ET

President-elect Joe Biden intends to nominate Denis McDonough to run Veterans Affairs, a position that requires Senate confirmation.

McDonough is a longtime aide of former President Barack Obama and served as his chief of staff from 2013 to 2017.

McDonough, who did not serve in the military, was chosen because of his ability to navigate crises and sort through the complex morass of government programs that can support veterans, a source familiar with the president-elect's thinking told NPR. The source spoke about private conversations on the condition of anonymity.

Joe Chenelly, executive director of AMVETS, said the veterans group thought Biden would go in a different direction.

"We were expecting a veteran, maybe a post-9/11 veteran. Maybe a woman veteran. Or maybe a veteran who knows the VA exceptionally well," Chenelly said in a statement. "We are looking forward to hearing from President-Elect Biden on his thinking behind this nomination."

Former VA Secretary David Shulkin, the only previous VA secretary who was not a veteran, stressed that the job was just as much about managing a huge organization — with over 300,000 staff — and the nearly constant crises that require congressional and executive branch coordination.

"Being able to manage a complex environment with many issues coming at you is what this job takes. It's not an easy job, but somebody with Denis' experience of being in the white house and managing so many issues I think is going to be a real asset," Shulkin told NPR.

Shulkin, who worked at VA under presidents Trump and Obama, said McDonough had been closely involved in responding to the 2014 VA wait-times scandal.

The VA is second only to the Pentagon in size and budget. It provides benefits and runs the largest health care network in the country, with about 9 million veterans enrolled.

News of McDonough's selection was first reported by Politico and later confirmed by NPR.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.
Quil Lawrence is a New York-based correspondent for NPR News, covering veterans' issues nationwide. He won a Robert F. Kennedy Award for his coverage of American veterans and a Gracie Award for coverage of female combat veterans. In 2019 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America honored Quil with its IAVA Salutes Award for Leadership in Journalism.