Dr. Anthony Tersigni: Robert Wilkie is the right pick for our nation's next VA secretary

Acting Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs  Robert Wilkie is the right choice to serve as our country’s VA secretary. Mr. Wilkie has decades of experience with international and national issues in his previous roles serving as a counselor and senior leader to the White House, Pentagon and members of Congress, and wants to be a catalyst for change that will best serve our nation’s veterans.

The son of an Army artillery commander who bravely served and was wounded in the Vietnam War, Mr. Wilkie has served in the U.S. Navy Reserve and is currently a reserve officer in the U.S. Air Force Reserve. His experience with the armed forces and dedication to providing counsel to leaders at the Department of Defense indicate a lifelong commitment to public service.

Under his leadership, Congress recently passed the bipartisan VA Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks (MISSION) Act to advance care for the more than 9 million veterans who access the VA healthcare system. Among many other solutions, the VA MISSION Act provides critical funding to improve community care programs and establish a new Center for Innovation for Care and Payment that would carry out pilot programs to test new value-based payment and delivery models and apply quality standards for care provided at the VA and by private providers, as well as give veterans the tools and resources to compare quality. This important legislation needs a strong leader who can shepherd its implementation and guarantee care coordination for veterans.

At his recent confirmation hearing before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Mr. Wilkie noted top priority areas for improvement: culture, access to care through implementation of the VA MISSION Act and IT modernization, reducing agency backlog of claims and payments, and human resources business. Signaling a desire to ensure continuity of care and services, Mr. Wilkie recently signed a contract to create a seamless experience for sharing electronic health records between the VA and the Department of Defense, the first step, he says, toward modernizing the VA for the changing veteran population. At his hearing, Mr. Wilkie stated that much of the care the VA provides “can never be duplicated” and he has the support of several veterans’ organizations.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Wilkie at the signing ceremony for the VA MISSION Act, where I expressed Ascension’s commitment to working with the VA to provide more access points to high-quality care. I am confident that as a dedicated public servant, he will serve our country well as the VA Secretary.

A complex, vital system serving the most deserving citizens needs a leader like Mr. Wilkie during this crucial time when the VA has not had a permanent secretary for more than 90 days. I urge the Senate to confirm Mr. Wilkie as the new secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. I look forward to working with him, veterans’ service organizations, the administration and Congress to continue to work toward expanding access to care for this important population.

Anthony R. Tersigni, EdD, FACHE, is president and CEO of St. Louis-based Ascension, the nation's largest nonprofit health system.

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