Senate Confirms Denis McDonough as VA Secretary
The US Senate confirmed Biden appointee — and former Obama Chief of Staff — Denis McDonough as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs on Monday.
A relatively unnoticed office for most of the US public, the VA Secretary has, like so many positions, become increasingly political and controversial. Robert Wilkie, the previous VA Secretary under President Trump, made waves when the VA decided to put the VA motto on plaques at 142 VA cemeteries last summer. This wouldn’t seem like a big deal, except the VA motto is a quote from a speech made by President Abraham Lincoln:
“To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.”
Naturally, this “old fashioned” sentiment lacks the “inclusiveness” associated with modern society.
Wilkie was also the first VA Secretary to definitively stand up to attacks on religious liberty by Michael “Mikey” Weinstein. In fact, the VA is currently the defendant in a lawsuit pushed by Weinstein, which is trying to prohibit the VA from allowing Bibles to be on display on privately-sponsored POW memorial tables at its facilities.
McDonough is known for his Catholic faith, and on one hand he appears to have the right lyrics:
Even as we uphold the freedom of religion at home, we recognize that it is not simply an American value. It is a universal human right…Freedom of religion is central to the freedom and dignity of human beings…
But upon closer examination, you’ll note the song focuses on the freedom to “worship“, not the freedom of religious exercise, which was the language of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then-President Barack Obama in 2010 that even the USCIRF criticized as a “narrow” understanding of religious freedom.
VA will provide world-class health care to meet the specific needs of veterans, drive progress to eliminate veterans homelessness and bring down suicide rates, and create meaningful employment and educational opportunities. VA will welcome and serve all veterans, including women veterans, veterans of color, and LGBT veterans.
He went on to say that he was committed to a diverse workforce and that he wanted to “provide a safe, inclusive” environment for veterans and VA employees.
Whether the VA continues to fight a lawsuit that would ban a private Bible from a display in a VA foyer — and whether it removes the recently installed motto plaques and changes the VA motto, as has been demanded — remains to be seen.
Given the political situation, however, it seems likely that those like Mikey Weinstein who want to restrict religious liberty (and common sense) will have some things to celebrate at the VA over the next four years.
Yet, perhaps there is hope.
We will defend the freedom of religion, here at home and around the world. We do this, not only because it is in our national security interests, we do it because it is right…
I pray that the God-given rights and liberties we cherish here in America will be enjoyed by more and more people of the world. Yet I’m mindful—as is the President—that this will not happen on its own. It depends on people—of all faiths—who are willing to stand up for these freedoms when they are threatened. It depends on us.
Sometimes, Secretary McDonough, it will depend on you.