November 20, 2007 – The Bush administration’s nominee to be the next secretary of veterans’ affairs will appear before a Senate committee Dec. 5 to answer questions about what he will bring to the job if confirmed.
This could be a quick process if retired Lt. Gen. James Peake, a West Point graduate and former Army surgeon general, satisfies the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee that he is prepared to take on the many challenges facing the Department of Veterans Affairs, including a growing backlog of benefits claims, lengthy waits for some appointments and treatment of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, especially for mental health issues.
But Senate aides, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Peake’s nomination could easily become a prolonged fight if his answers are unsatisfying or if his nomination somehow gets tied up in a partisan feud that has delayed action on legislation to improve veterans’ benefits and health care.
The Senate committee, chaired by Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, has been complaining that leaving the VA secretary’s post vacant since Oct. 1 seems to indicate the Bush administration considers veterans’ issues to be unimportant.
The White House formally nominated Peake for the VA post on Thursday, just as Congress was beginning a previously scheduled two-week break. The Dec. 5 hearing will come on the first week back from the break. Congressional leaders hoping to end the legislative session no later than Dec. 21, which does not allow a lot of time for extensive hearings or investigation.
Retired Army Maj. Gen. William Matz Jr., president of the National Association for Uniformed Services and a member of the Veterans’ Disability Benefits Committee that has recommended numerous improvements in veterans’ programs, said he thinks Peake is “an excelled choice.”
Peake was commander of the Madigan Army Medical Center at Fort Lewis, Wash., in the mid-1990s when Matz was deputy commanding general at that post.
“I know him well,” Matz said. “What a great choice.”