By DAVID HICKMANThe White House on Monday selected a former aide to President Donald Trump to lead the Veterans Affairs Department as the nation’s top envoy to the world’s largest and most populous nation.
Kory Watkins, the VA’s top civilian undersecretary, will be the highest-ranking civilian official in the Department to serve in the administration of the nations first female commander-in-chief, a post he has held since Trump took office.KW Watkins, who will be sworn in on Jan. 20, was named the White House’s next secretary of Veterans Affairs on Sunday.
He previously served as the deputy assistant secretary of the Department of Defense for military and homeland security.
The VA is a massive agency, with an estimated 8.5 million veterans, and Watkins is expected to help oversee a system that has seen more than 2,000 suicides and more than 1.6 million cases of suicide, according to a list of requirements.
The VA has seen an average of 8 deaths per day since Trump’s inauguration, and an average rate of 9.6 suicides per day, the government said in a press release.
More:Trump’s VA chief: ‘We’re not going to be a place that is just a place for the rich and the powerful’Trump has made a number of controversial moves during his presidency, from cutting the salaries of thousands of VA employees to the dismissal of some staff in an attempt to reduce wait times for care.
He also called for a nationwide ban on “sanctuary cities,” a provision that would bar the federal government from deporting residents of jurisdictions that don’t cooperate with federal authorities in certain areas.
The Department of Veterans Services, which is charged with implementing Trump’s executive order banning transgender troops from serving in the military, has faced criticism for not fully implementing the order and has faced widespread criticism from veterans groups for its handling of veterans’ mental health issues.
The agency is also facing criticism for having a large backlog of medical care requests.