The nomination of Connecticut Veterans’ Affairs Commissioner Linda S. Schwartz for a top federal job sailed through the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Tuesday on a unanimous voice vote.
It goes to the full Senate next and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said her bipartisan support within the committee is a good sign that she will be able to get to work soon as assistant secretary for policy and planning at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
“Advocacy is especially important in areas we have highlighted in Connecticut, including invisible wounds like post-traumatic stress, veterans’ homelessness, women veterans’ issues, and veterans with disabilities,” Blumenthal said. “Her new national position provides a solid platform for expanding and enhancing some of the Connecticut initiatives that have proved promising.”
Schwartz has headed Connecticut’s department for 10 years and brings personal and professional credentials. She retired from the Air Force after a blast concussion made it impossible to continue her work as a bedside nurse. She’s been active in nursing and veterans’ groups and has both a master’s degree in nursing and a doctorate in public health from the Yale School of Medicine. She served on the national boards of directors of the American Nurses Association, Vietnam Veterans of America and the Vietnam Women’s Memorial.
Schwartz, 69, is the first woman to head Connecticut’s department and served under both Republican and Democratic governors.
U.S. Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, the top Republican on the committee, tried to postpone a vote on another nominee Tuesday – Constance Tobias, who was nominated to serve as chairman of the Veterans’ Board of Appeals – because he hadn’t gotten all the documents he requested from her. That nomination still passed on an 8-6 party-line vote, but Schwartz’s drew no discussion or opposition.
Lawmakers including Burr have complained about problems with VA backlogs in handling appeals and in getting information is requested.
Schwartz’s new job, if approved by the full Senate, will be to come up with strategies for a changing veterans’ population, overseeing reams of data, evaluating programs and coordinating where resources should be used.
Her own injury in an aircraft on a training mission “gave me a framework to understand today’s veterans” she said before her confirmation hearing earlier this month. She said it took her a while to find the health and vocational rehabilitation benefits she needed after the life-changing injury, which kept her out of work for three years. The statistical data and research skills she honed as part of her doctorate will be useful in a new job that involves analyzing VA programs to figure out what works and what doesn’t.
“The needs of today’s veterans and their families are growing. Just as our military has changed, the needs of our veterans and their families have changed, and VA is transforming as an organization to meet them,” she told the committee at the hearing. “…We must continue to challenge the status quo.”