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Politics

Current VA Secretary McDonald: I'd 'undoubtedly' stay if Trump asked




FILE - In this Feb. 25, 2016, file photo, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald speaks in Washington. Two years after a scandal over long wait times for veterans seeking health care, the Department of Veterans Affairs still has
FILE - In this Feb. 25, 2016, file photo, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald speaks in Washington. Two years after a scandal over long wait times for veterans seeking health care, the Department of Veterans Affairs still has "profound deficiencies" in delivering health care to millions of veterans, a congressional commission says in a new report. The Commission on Care says in a report to be released July 6 that the VA delivers high-quality health care but is inconsistent from one site to the next, and problems with access remain. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

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President-elect Donald Trump has yet to choose a replacement to run one the biggest bureaucracies in the world: The Department of Veterans Affairs. It's one of his last cabinet positions left to fill, though not for lack of trying. The current secretary, Robert McDonald, was installed by President Obama in 2014 to fix a department riddled with scandal. 

To an outside observer, McDonald would seem like the ideal pick for businessman-turned-President-elect Trump: McDonald is a veteran, a Republican and former head of corporate giant Proctor & Gamble.

In addition, several of the nation's largest veterans groups have written to the Trump camp strongly advising him to keep McDonald at the helm. 

But the secretary told Take Two Thursday that he'd yet to hear from Trump. 

"I'm sure if I were asked — while I've not discussed it with my family — we would certainly consider it and undoubtedly do it," Secretary McDonald told Take Two's A Martinez. 

Highlights

We're talking to you at a major turning point for the VA. President-elect Donald Trump has interviewed several potential candidates to take over as secretary: the president-elect has also faced pressure from some of the nation's largest veteran's groups to keep you in place. If you were asked, would you stay on? 

Well, I've always done my duty. As you know, I went to West Point and 'Duty, Honor, Country,' means a lot to me, so I'm sure if I were asked, while I've not discussed it with my family, we would certainly consider it and undoubtedly do it. But I've not received a call from the President-elect. 

(Follow-up questions can be heard in the audio above)

We spoke to you on this program last January when you were in Los Angeles addressing veteran homelessness. There were about 2,500 homeless vets in the city, and you'd JUST unveiled plans to develop the VA campus in West Los Angeles. One year later, how would you describe veteran homelessness in Los Angeles? 

I would say that we're making progress, but we're not at the end of the road yet. As you may know, from that count last January, we discovered that we decreased veteran homelessness in Los Angeles in 2015 by 32 percent while general population homelessness went up over 6 percent, so that was a 38 percentage point reduction. 

We're pleased with that, but obviously, any night that we have any veteran on the street without shelter, without care, that's one night too many — one veteran too many. That's why I'm here. That's why I'm working with Mayor Garcetti and the county and others to get the number down to zero. 

Three states have announced an effective end to veteran homelessness since you took control of the department in 2014: Connecticut, Delaware, and Virginia. But in an op-ed you penned Tuesday, you said your "greatest challenge" as Secretary of the VA has been the City of Los Angeles. What about LA has made putting an end to veteran homelessness particularly difficult?

I think the challenge in L.A. is one of all the great reasons that people love to live here: the weather. When I do my count at the end of January each year here in L.A., I see license plates of homeless veterans from all over the country. Secondly, the scale here is just so large. The third thing is the affordability of housing. It's not unique to Los Angeles, but obviously, there's not a lot of low-cost housing here, so we need creative solutions. 

Last night, I had dinner with a developer who's looking at buying a defunct hotel and turning it into low-cost residences for veterans. We need those kinds of creative solutions.

Donald Trump has pushed for veterans to have a choice over where they get their care, but some analysts say that further steps toward privatization could erode the VA. Press the blue play button above to hear the Secretary's thoughts. 

(Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.)