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VA Secretary Denis McDonough

The U.S. Senate confirmed VA Secretary nominee Denis McDonough on Monday, February 8th by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of support of 87-7. McDonough was sworn in as the 11th VA secretary on February 9, 2021 by Vice President Kamala Harris. He is the second non-veteran to serve in this position.


McDonough was raised as one of eleven children in a devout Irish Catholic family. His grandparents immigrated from Ireland. McDonough graduated summa cum laude in History and Spanish, in 1992, from Saint John’s University, and, in 1996 earned an MSFS degree from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.


He started his career by working as an aide for the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs followed by serving as a senior foreign policy advisor for Senator Tom Daschle. He served as a senior foreign policy advisor to Obama during his presidential campaign and joined the Obama administration in October 2010, as Deputy National Security Advisor. On January 20, 2013 Obama appointed McDonough as his Chief of Staff. In 2017, he joined the Markle Foundation, a non-profit organization, that dealt with various issues in the labor market.


Secretary McDonough has outlined several of his priorities to include:


Oversight and implementation of the 2018 VA MISSION Act, including the rollout of VA’s community care and new caregiver programs and other legislation that will expand mental health services and suicide prevention. These new pieces of legislation include:


S. 785, Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act. AVASW provided input to this in the legislative process.

H.R. 8247, the Veterans Comprehensive, Prevention, Access to Care and Treatment (COMPACT) Act

H.R. 7105, Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act – now in the process of implementation.


Other areas of concern by Secretary McDonough include increased access to reproductive services such as in vitro fertilization for veterans, elimination of health disparities, and improving the equity of care for women, underserved, and minority veterans. He, also, is interested in access to care for veterans living in rural areas.


In Secretary McDonough’s first press conference after taking office, he indicated that he has ordered a top-down review of department policies to ensure they comply with a presidential executive order designed to combat discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. This will include a department wide policy review to ensure the DVA is a “welcoming and inclusive” environment for LGBT vets and employees.


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