Kirk, Durbin encouraged by Obama's VA pick

Associated PressJuly 15, 2014 

— Following separate private meetings Tuesday, Illinois' two U.S. senators both said they were encouraged by President Obama's pick to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Democrat Dick Durbin and Republican Mark Kirk sat down with Bob McDonald on Tuesday in Washington.

McDonald, a former Procter and Gamble CEO who was raised in the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights, was nominated by the president June 30 to lead the troubled department.

If the nomination is confirmed by the Senate, McDonald would succeed Eric Shinseki. The retired general resigned last month following a national outcry over reports of widespread treatment delays, patient deaths and falsified records at VA facilities nationwide.

Kirk, a former naval reservist, said he gave McDonald a letter asking him to tour VA hospitals in Illinois. He said he told McDonald he was particularly concerned over facility conditions at the veterans' hospital in Danville, which he described as "run down" during a recent visit.

"I emphasized how much he needed to be a change agent at the VA," Kirk said. "He shot back that he had been a change agent at Procter and Gamble."

Durbin, in a statement, said he and McDonald discussed keeping promises to veterans of Illinois, which included a "shared goal" of ensuring that veterans have benefits claims processed quickly, and health care needs met fully.

A June audit found nearly 900 veterans have requested appointments at Illinois' Veterans Administration hospitals in the past decade but not received them. It also found average wait times for patients to see primary care physicians at Illinois' five major VA medical centers above the federal administration's target of 14 days.

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