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Say What? Senator Admits To VA Nominee Stall

VA Nominees Remy Donaghy Ross Quinn

Last week, we heard an anonymous senator put a hold on confirmation votes delaying the confirmation of four individuals nominated for top slots at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

This week, that senator has a name.

As reported by Stars & Stripes, Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn, is the lawmaker responsible for the stall. Blackburn argued Tuesday that she will delay confirmation until the agency indefinitely. That is, until VA provides its official position on the cost and implementation of the Comprehensive and Overdue Support for Troops of War Act of 2021.

The confirmations impacted by the hold or stall include:

  • Donald Remy: nominated to be the Deputy Secretary (top middle)
  • Matthew Quinn: nominated to be under secretary for memorial affairs (bottom right)
  • Maryanne Donaghy: nominated to lead VA’s whistleblower protection office (bottom middle)
  • Patricia Ross: nominated to be assistant secretary for legislative affairs (top right)

The Act in question would dramatically expand benefits to veterans impacted over the past 31 years by respiratory illness or cancer. It would automatically grant VA health care to about 3.5 million veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. It would also reform how VA presently (mis)handles toxic exposure disability claims.

Otherwise dubbed the COST of War Act, the legislation proposed May 2021 is “shaping up to be the most consequential legislative effort on the veterans’ space in an entire generation,” according to Blackburn. The lawmaker is concerned that the proposed legislation, if passed by Congress, would overwhelm VA with new claims and extensions of health care and benefits.

“I will continue to keep my hold on these pending VA nominees until I receive the official views on the Cost of War Act,” Blackburn said. “What we’re doing is standing up for these veterans and saying to the VA, ‘Get your act together. Provide this information.’”  

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont, chairmen of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, attempted to push through the nominees last week by unanimous consent but was blocked by Blackburn.

The two exchanged barbs over the stall but Blackburn refused to budge.

“We can sit here and play these games of holding up nominees to fill critical agency positions and say we’re doing it on behalf of veterans, but that is bull. Total bull,” Tester said. “The bottom line is, if we want a VA that can function, then we must have it staffed up. We’ve got a job to do here, folks.”

The Act’s Unveiling

When the Act was unveiled last month, Sen. Tester was proud of the Act’s scope without knowledge of the bill’s cost if approved. Stars & Stripes reported:

“Decade after decade, our service members have returned home from war only to be met with a piecemeal process as they try to cobble together health care and disability benefits they’ve earned,” Tester said on a phone call with reporters. “I’m proud to unveil my comprehensive and overdue support.”  

Tester is anticipating pushback on the bill because of its cost, which remains unknown but is likely significant. The Congressional Budget Office, which provides cost and economic information to Congress, has not yet shared its cost estimate for the legislation.

Tester said he’s willing to make some changes to the bill based on feedback from the VA and other senators. However, he said multiple times Tuesday that lawmakers need to acknowledge this a cost of sending service members to war.

“I don’t know what this costs,” Tester said. “But I’m going to tell you how I approach this: We have to make this thing work financially. … We have an all-volunteer military. If we expect people to step up, we have to make sure we hold up our end of the deal and ensure promises are kept.” 

Long Wait?

Given the current positioning by Blackburn, this could be a long wait.

When asked about the delay, VA through its press secretary Terrence Hayes provided the following comment:

“It is extremely important and necessary that these leaders arrive to VA as quickly as possible. They serve in critical roles at the Department – roles that will only help us in our efforts to deliver the absolute-best health care and access to benefits to Veterans.”

Given the scope of the bill in question, I think its unlikely a comprehensive response can be provided within the short term, especially when the proposed head of legislative affairs had her nomination stalled.

Leading me to my next question.

Is it reasonable to believe the VA secretary would have a substantive answer about the scope and cost of the COST of War Act three weeks after the Act was unveiled to the public?

If the answer is “no,” then this stall may be more of a tactic with an alterior motive. It could then have more to do with the nominees or with some other form of jockeying behind the scenes than the information Blackburn hopes to receive from the VA secretary.

Now What? Let’s Do Some Research

We could do nothing but wait for VA to provide the information sought – Blackburn wants the VA secretary to provide her with his official view of the proposed legislation.

Like most things within the huge bureaucracy, this could take a very, very, very, very, long time.

On the bright side, the delay may give us time to get better acquainted with the nominees who may be leading our VA over the next few years.

I’ll enlist my readers to start digging into backgrounds to see what we can learn.

From what I can tell by digging into at least two nominees, if I read the tea leaves correctly, so to speak, it appears the Biden Administration has selected at least two senior attorneys with extensive experience protecting the interests of large clients with deep pockets. Those same attorneys appear to have limited public service experience helping the average Joe.

While this may be good for Biden and his team, would this strategy be good for veterans and agency personnel?

SEE: Senate Hearing on Pending Nominations

Deputy Secretary Nominee – Donald Remy

The Biden Administrations touted Remy’s “problem solving and crisis management abilities.” Based on my own review of his background, Remy’s ability to direct crisis management is likely off the charts.

But, is crisis management what VA needs right now?

There are a few things I really like about Remy as I dig, but I do have some reservations, too.

I like that he is a veteran. I also like that he has an extensive background both in the public sector and private sector. His time at the NCAA over the past decade likely could not be more challenging as it relates to crisis management, and I am confident he learned invaluable lessons along the way.

But, do we need another attorney in this spot versus a business manager with a proven track record?

The last deputy secretary, James “Jim” Byrne was formerly the chief privacy officer before coming to VA. He was fired from the job in 2020 after being confirmed for five months. He previously served in an acting role as deputy secretary as well as lead attorney on the Office of General Counsel, prior. Some of you may recall a lot of push back from me and others that resolved from VA’s massive evolving privacy policy reforms back in 2019.

It is something to consider, and I spend a bit more time on Remy than the other three stalled nominees since the role of deputy secretary is so important at VA. This is the person who will be essentially running the behemoth of an agency for the foreseeable future.

Starting with his written testimony to the Senate, it did not reveal much background, but his Wiki page was somewhat useful.

Remy, a previous Obama Administration nominee, has worked for NCAA as the chief legal officer and chief operations officer since 2011. The longtime attorney started his public service in the US Army where he worked as the assistant to the Army general counsel in the early 90’s. He later served in the DOJ as a deputy assistant attorney general working on legal matters arising from the sieges at Waco and Ruby Ridge.

READ: Making An Early Mark At Justice (Washington Post, 1999)

By 2009, he was nominated by the Obama Administration to serve as the Army attorney general but his name was withdrawn. The Washington Times reported Remy omitted the name of a former employer, Fannie Mae, from a key application document provided to the Senate Armed Services Committee resulting in a “flap.”

READ: Army Lawyer Pick Faces Resume Flap (Washington Times, 2009)

Prior to his nomination, Remy worked as the chief compliance officer and general counsel for Fannie Mae from 2000 to 2006.

The Washington Times reported that in 2006 the enormous housing lender reported “billions of dollars in accounting errors.” Apparently, one of Remy’s forms referenced Fannie Mae “only as ‘a major U.S. company” instead of directly by name. Remy stated this was a mistake.

The company’s accounting errors were investigated by the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO) in 2006 and explained in greater detail within that report. Later, Fannie Mae was reported as a client of Remy’s to the Office of Government Ethics while he worked as a partner at Lathan & Watkins.

Remy has driven legal and operations at NCAA through some of the organization’s most challenging periods. This includes managing blowback from the Sandusky child abuse scandal and current attempts by college athletes to unionize.

Remy and the NCAA have argued against unionization, which is inconsistent to the current position taken by the Biden DOJ on the same matter.

Back to you.

Is Remy’s nomination a signal that the Biden Administration is forecasting new scandals? Or, is the Administration simply positioning itself to protect against blowback should a scandal arise?

What do you think?

Assistant Secretary of VA for the Office of Accountability & Whistleblower Protection (OAWP) – Maryanne Donaghy

Maryanne Donaghy is an attorney and senior advisor at the Biden Institute at the University of Delaware, the same university that houses the president’s Senate papers.

There is not a lot of information available online about Donaghy.

According to the White House:

“Donaghy has counseled numerous organizations, including non-profits, large corporations and governmental agencies, on response to federal, state and congressional investigations, and on building effective compliance programs,” the White House said Friday in its announcement. “Among other responsibilities, she has worked with a large university involving Title IX investigations, counseled a large pharmaceutical company under federal and state investigation involving marketing practices and provided advice to a hospital system regarding research misconduct allegations.”

This is the background boasted about by the Biden Administration on its White House website. Before going further, does this background seem somewhat hollow? Does this background or experience lend itself to protecting whistleblowers?

Based on this, it looks like her experience is almost exclusively to protect large organizations from oversight or overreach by external investigators or from civil litigations. Generally speaking, we can conclude the following:

  • She advised one large university with a Title IX investigation.
  • She advised one large pharmaceutical company under investigation for marketing practices address investigators.
  • She advised one hospital system against research misconduct allegations.

Is this the kind of attorney that would be well equipped to run an organization aimed at protecting whistleblowers and holding senior official accountable for retaliation against those same whistleblowers?

VA has faced mounting pressure to reform its OAWP due to apparent conflicts of interest where the organization is charged to investigate while also protecting whistleblowers. Over the past 4 years, countless reports have emerged suggesting OAWP was misused and instead facilitating greater whistleblower retaliation, not less.

READ: VA Accountability Office Says It’s Improved, But Whistleblowers Aren’t So Sure

Donaghy’s background as stated by the White House suggests she lacks any military experience or experience working with veterans. It true, this suggests she likely does not bring cultural competency to the table much less a background of significant public service generally preferred for such roles.

However, her testimony to the Senate reveals some material information, at least about cultural competency. Donaghy comes from a military family with multiple family members who have served.

Was that a slight oversight by the White House press team?

One could say that since she looks like a pick to lead an arm of the Food and Drug Administration versus someone who would be pro-whistleblower at VA based on what the White House said.

So, why did the White House position her background in the announcement to make her appear pro-pharma or pro-big medicine without reference to her military family background or accomplishments supporting average people?

Something I infer from her White House biography is her role as an advisor to the Biden Institute at this pivotal time where some reporters wanted more transparency from then candidate Biden, not less. It appears Donaghy was an advisor to the Biden Institute during the period (2020-2021) the former presidential candidate refused access to reporters concerning his Senate papers and the list of foundation donors to the institute.

Did she play a role in that decisionmaking?

If I were a senator, I would want to know more about her role in those investigations touted by the White House as well as her various roles as a senior advisor to the Biden Institute over the past couple years.

What do you think? Is she a good choice for the OAWP?

Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs – Maj. Gen. Matthew Quinn (Ret.)

Matthew Quinn is a retired Major General who served as the Montana National Guard adjutant general. His service spanned 37 years. I understand he has done a good job, but there is not a lot of information about him online.

His written testimony did not reveal much beyond what I could already dig up on Wiki.


Where you able to find much?

Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs – Patricia Ross

Patricia Ross presently serves as the senior policy advisor in the Office of the Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Cali, where she has worked since 2011. According to the White House, Ross has spearheaded bipartisan agreements in major arenas including “the COVID-19 response, CHOICE Act, MISSION Act, Forever GI Bill, Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, Deborah Sampson Act, Every Student Succeeds Act, 2014 and 2018 Farm Bills, and ending the Widows and Kiddie Tax.”

It is a bit ironic that Ross, if confirmed, would be the person to likely collect the data and respond to Sen. Blackburn.

So, what do you think of the stalled nominees? Are these the right people for the job right now?

My Takeaway

I am still looking around for information on these nominees. If confirmed, I hope the Senate does evaluate relevant information prior to voting. I agree with the sentiment of the VA press secretary, the agency needs leaders to arrive to VA as quickly as possible to move the agency forward.

The two attorneys nominated, Remy and Donaghy, have a lot of experience protecting the intersests of the organizations and companies they serve. I am not clear how that will translate to protecting the interests of Americans and the veterans served by the Department of Veterans Affairs. I am also not clear how this will translate to managing hundreds of thousands of union personnel with an annual budget of over $200 billion and hospitals across the country.

As for Ross, I understand she is a solid pick for the role and has a significant amount of experience negotiating bipartisan legislative solutions to the problems faced by veterans.

I also understand Quinn is a solid pick, but I do not know much about him.

Let me know what you find.

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23 thoughts on “Say What? Senator Admits To VA Nominee Stall”

  1. How does this become another epic bull session about ex-Presidents? No wonder politicians treat us like idiots—we are idiots.

    Focus, people. The issue at hand is that a politician has staged a Moment. The relevant discussion concerns whether or not that Moment is in the legitimate interests of Veterans, or is just more kindergarten posturing to play to the mob.

    Clearly–based on the sad narrative on display here–playing to the mob works. Not one comment addressed the core question, while the popularity of ex-Presidents was full-throated.

    I am a bit divergent from Ben Krause in the matter of the Deputy Secretary. Although we are both combat veterans, we appear to have had different experiences of the VA. One of the recurring themes of the tug-of-war between Congress and the VA is over the idea that the VA should “economise”.

    Naturally, politicians always claim they are trying to “cut fat”, but the reality of massive bureaucracies is that they are *immune* to the kind of lightweight oversight Congress provides nowadays. So what wind up happening with the “Business Guys” is that service get cut–to which end the discourse on the poor provision of services like Dental and Optical for 100% Service-Connected Veterans is apt.

    So I can see the presence of a long-service public-sector attorney as a positive, while I view the insertion of business types with more apprehension. I certainly see the nominee as qualified in any event, and that is meant to be the purpose of a nomination hearing.

    More to the point, I don’t see Senator Blackburn’s demand as reasonable and customary–which is the kind of working relationship that helps average veterans. Constant publicity wars may make the FaceBook crowd salivate–and perhaps they are entertaining to those with health care resources–but it does not solve problems for veterans.

    I’m not as keen on the Whistleblower admin, but I really think that Inspectors General are the superior means of managing bureaucracies–provided they are insulated from the arbitrary caprice of the Executive.

    My nickel.
    SFH

  2. Sometimes protecting the interest of the “other” side gives valuable insight into how to protect the interest of the veterans when the tables are turned. One knows the arguments and hence is better able to make the counter arguments. I experienced this when we needed to hire an attorney that represented the interest of our special needs child. The attorney we ended up hiring had experience representing the school district and converted to a special education attorney.

  3. Robert Beckwith

    I’m thinking of recent VA ads bragging about how the VA is training doctors of the future. Really? The VA says it can’t afford enough surgeons . But it brags about training resident surgeons, which pay to be trained at the VA. But the VA can afford to hire top attorneys to fight Veterans who bring medical malpractice suits against bad resident surgeons.

    Which of course sucks. But why would the VA brag about having new surgeons train on veterans? Why would they think they could get away with that? And why do they get away with it.

    B

  4. The VA needs to be run by war veterans who have known the battles that veterans have when they come home injured. The “political” aspects and management backgrounds are irrelevant to the mass of soldiers, sailors and marines who came home with far too many wounds (physical, mental, emotional, neurological) they never had when they decided to serve their country. These bureaucrats simply DO NOT CARE ABOUT VETERANS – they care about a paycheck, a high ranking cabinet position, their personal agendas and their own lives. They DO NOT HELP VETERANS because they never suffered, they lack compassion, and fail to realize that Americas sons and daughters have come home from war maimed, traumatized, and unable to cope with life (hence the 21 suicides a day for over 10 years). Why? Because their children (and themselves) have never suffered the wounds of war our grandfathers, fathers, and we, ourselves, have suffered. Their education and prior jobs taught them NOTHING ABOUT VETERANS NEEDS AND THEY DO NOT GIVE A DAMN ABOUT VETERANS- its just job to them. Its high time the service organizations (especially the DAV, Paralyzed and Blind Veterans organizations) and their families pushed to have people in office represent their interests and perhaps 21 veterans a day would be standing here now, perhaps our fathers in VA nursing homes would get better treatment and not die from neglect, perhaps we,ourselves, would get medical care from real doctors (rather than residents who are practicing their new skills on us). And maybe some day one of these bureaucratic, money grubbing, political policymakers will learn that they OWE US – because we and our friends, families, and comrades paid the ultimate price!

  5. Good evening. It’s nice to be in the know with Ben’s well researched information. It’s a bonus to have them well-written.😊

    I called Senator Blackburn and voiced that it would be more genuine on her part if she’d stall non-Veteran specific spending. This is the status quo we’ve come to expect from our fearless leaders on the hill.

    Thanks Ben!

  6. WOW two attorneys that specialize in DAMAGE CONTROL. Well maybe there is a steal going on and they want to be able to Spin it to their advantage so they bring in the SPECIALISTS.

    We should check to see where the “No Bid” contracts are being awarded. VA is the biggest budget with lots of money to be taken.

  7. That part about a “long overdue” report is complete justification for stalling the legislation. Knowing how this will impact the VA is very important. As it is, the VA was forced to go to non-VA providers to keep up with the existing workload.

    And they say another 3.5 million veterans into this system, is that needs, or just a blanket thing for everybody who served? Needs and service connected vets already qualify!

  8. Crazy Elf, I agree with you on the if the shoe fits Biden and Clinton should wear it. I do not see President Trump as a draft dodger.

  9. To who read this can you please really really try to convince the Veterans Affairs Committee passed a new Disabled Veterans Law who is lOO percent service connected need to have a Dentist knows how to put in G4implants for free because they don’t have one works for a Veteran Medical Centers Dentistry or have a contact with Veterans Affairs Administration and if a Disabled Veterans who is lOO percent service connected don’t get the G4implants it definitely cause really bad Swallowing Problems and really bad Hearts Problems plus really bad Gum Disease

    1. I agree with you Arnold. The VA fails at implants; and, getting anything approved by the VA to have a surgeon and dentist do it outside of the VA is an act of war. Citizens abused at every turn.

      1. Edward W Sieczka

        I’m 100% T&P and don’t get dental care at the VA Manila Clinic. Not available. LMFAO!

  10. Edward W Sieczka

    I’m so tired of Congress. Billions spent on foreign aid, covid aid, and this 6 trillion infrastructure bill.

    1. Now we have biden handing Putin a list of 16 infrastructures he can’t attack! You can’t make this stuff up. biden believes he can hand over a list to one of our enemies and expect Putin’s friends not to attack them!

      1. Gene GOLDENSTEIN

        Well Bonespurs said nothing
        about bounties on the heads of
        GI .s
        Keep my hair dry the Cemetery is
        too far
        I don’t like those that are captured
        Insult Gold Star Families.
        No Trump has ever served in the
        Military Ever.

  11. We are waiting because most of these Pols both parties
    are cowards and or. draft dodgers. Cruz “I wanted to go.”
    Look at The Trumper Pure coward and draft dodger.
    A real Pos.

    1. I really don’t like responding to individuals who attack one party leader without giving the other party leader the same due process!
      Yes, President trump was able to avoid the draft by having “bone spurs”! A painful condition which was first brought to light by the physicians at the induction center.
      After he tried numerous times to enlist, at different enlistment centers, the draft board officers refused his entry into military service.
      As for biden. He used several family physicians to claim he had asthma. All while he was on “first string” of the swim team and football team!

      As a dual service member, U.S. Army (1965 – 69) and U.S. Navy (1975 – 82), I can assure you we had individuals in both services who had asthma. There was and is medication to combat that problem!
      As a matter of fact, my step-son (U.S. Navy submarine service 1991-95)

      Lastly, if your going to call President Trump a “draft dodger” you MUST also call biden one!
      Oh, and before I forget – Bill Clinton was a bigger draft dodger than either one of those two!

      1. P.S.
        Clinton was not only “AWOL” he was a deserter. He joined the National Guard to keep from going to Nam. Then before his first meeting, he took off for England then Russia. After 30 days, your considered a deserter!

      2. I was referring to both parties. I was not referring to President Trump not being allowed to enter the military due to bone spurs. I was referring to how these parties just kick issues down the road and never resolve and solve anything. It is just about having hands held out.

      3. Crazy Elf, I agree with you on the if the shoe fits Biden and Clinton should wear it. I do not see President Trump as a draft dodger.

      4. Gene GOLDENSTEIN

        Trump never tried to Enlist.
        He was and is a coward pure and
        Simple. When asked about the
        Bonespurs he could not even remember them. His father sent
        him to a Podiatrist for a letter.
        He was a star athlete in
        Military high school. He said his
        Vietnam was avoiding aids in the
        70’s. Stop the BS.

    2. I was referring to both parties. I was not referring to President Trump not being allowed to enter the military due to bone spurs. I was referring to how these parties just kick issues down the road and never resolve and solve anything. It is just about having hands held out.

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