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Senate confirms Robert Wilkie to be Veterans Affairs secretary

Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie speaks during a press briefing at the White House on May 17, 2018, in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

The Senate on Monday voted 86-9 to confirm former congressional staffer and Pentagon veteran Robert Wilkie to lead the troubled Department of Veterans Affairs.

President Donald Trump tapped Wilkie for the post after his previous pick, Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, withdrew his nomination following reports that he improperly prescribed medication during his stint as White House physician.

Wilkie’s first order of business will be to reduce wait times, which often extend beyond 30 days, for veterans seeking medical appointments. Wilkie called the long wait times “unacceptable” during his June confirmation hearing.

Wilkie also noted that it will take time to improve the VA, a massive bureaucracy and the largest health care system in the United States. The department has more than 300,000 employees serving more than 9 million veterans at 1,240 facilities.

A lawyer by training with no professional medical background, Wilkie will lean on his past experience as a congressional aide in the post.

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Wilkie is currently the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, a Senate-confirmed position. Wilkie also twice served as a Senate aide, first to former Majority Leader Trent Lott, a Mississippi Republican, in the 1990s and more recently to North Carolina Republican Thom Tillis, who sits on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee.