VA gets first permanent staff for best health jobs since 2017

The Veterans Health Administration will have a leader confirmed by the Senate for the first time in over five years since President Joe Biden’s nominee received Senate confirmation.

The Senate voted 66 to 23 Thursday afternoon to confirm Shereef Elnahal as the VA under the Secretary of Health.

The vote filled the VA’s top medical position with a non-officer for the first time since David Shulkin stepped down in early 2017 to become the Trump administration’s VA secretary. Neither administration has tentatively nominated a candidate, leaving the key position in overseeing the care of millions of veterans ambiguous.

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As Undersecretary of Health, Elnajal oversees the Veterans Health Administration, responsible for a budget of over $60 billion and 9 million patients. He took the job at a time when the department was struggling to launch a new electronic health record program and continues to make changes to comply with the 2018 Mission Act. to a private doctor.

“More than ever, the VA needs a steady hand to guide the Veterans Health Administration,” said Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester, D-Mont on the Senate floor ahead of the vote. Stated. “It is no secret that the VHA and the health care system or providers are going through difficult times.The VA continues to fight the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as veterans’ cases and hospitalizations and deaths rise again. And VA staff are coping with burnout and increased turnover.”

The tester also praised Elnajal’s “impressive record”, showing that he is “dedicated to caring for more than nine million veterans in care”. .

Elnahal has been President and CEO of University Hospital in Newark, NJ since 2019. Prior to that, he was a health commissioner for New Jersey. From 2016 to his 2018, he served in his VA as Assistant Secretary of Health for Quality, Safety, and Value.

At the approval hearing, Elnajal pledged to instill a “culture of respect and accountability” in the VHA, which he said he had completed in his current job.

He also pledged to make appointment wait time data more transparent, improve oversight of physician credentials, improve access to mental health care, and address issues with the department’s new electronic medical records system. did.

As New Jersey Commissioner of Health, El Nahal, who expanded access to medical marijuana to veterans and patients with certain other conditions, will advance cannabis research in the VA for certain health conditions, within federal law. He said he would talk about it.

“I acted as a full advocate for this program for all patients who meet certain criteria,” Elnajal said. was not something that had to be addressed, so it would be a layer of problems that would have to be addressed if confirmed.”

Ernajal was quickly promoted by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee after a confirmation hearing in April. But after Senator Rick Scott (Florida Republican) opposed expediting full confirmation in the Senate, arguing that Biden’s nominee was ineligible, his confirmation would take months. I got stuck.

The VA continues to wait for the benefits manager while the health role is satisfied. Biden nominated Ray Jefferson as the VA’s Undersecretary of Human Services on the same day he nominated El Najal, and the two candidates shared confirmation hearings in April. Withdrew from consideration amid Republican concerns over his job as head of the Department of Labor’s Veterans Employment and Training Service.

In 2011, the Department of Labor inspector general substantiated allegations that Jefferson had violated federal contract and ethics rules, but the agency overturned the ruling eight years later, saying the allegations should not have been substantiated and Jefferson had to resign. Said it shouldn’t have been asked.

The VA announced Tuesday it was launching a new search for the Undersecretary of Human Services.

— Rebecca Kheel can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on her Twitter @reporterkheel.

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