After months of delays, the U.S. Senate on Tuesday confirmed state Veterans Affairs Commissioner Linda Schwartz as the new Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs for Policy and Planning in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Schwartz, 69, a former nurse and Air Force veteran, was chosen for the national post last year by President Barack Obama. In her decade as head of the Connecticut agency, she has become known for her strong advocacy of veterans, especially around issues of homelessness, post-traumatic stress disorder and women and disabled veterans. Her confirmation was applauded Tuesday by U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, who noted in a joint statement that the VA is “in critical need of new approaches, greater accountability and new people to tackle tough challenges.”
This summer, former Proctor & Gamble chief executive Robert A. McDonald took over as Secretary of the embattled department, after a scandal over the manipulation of patient wait-time data led to the ouster of former Secretary Eric Shinseki.
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.
Connecticut Veterans’ Affairs Commissioner Linda S. Schwartz made it clear Wednesday that her approach to a top federal Veterans Affairs job is personal. Schwartz, after 10 years leading Connecticut’s department, is nominated for assistant secretary for policy and planning of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. She’s got the professional resume to match the job – a doctorate in public health from Yale’s School of Medicine, nearly 20 years in the Air Force, a master’s degree in nursing and involvement in nursing and veterans’ groups. “For the past 40 years, I have devoted my life and profession to caring for others as a practicing nurse, researcher and an advocate for veterans,” she told the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee that is considering her nomination. “Keeping faith with the men and women who are wearing the uniform has been the fundamental and overriding purpose of my work and a guide star for my life journey.”
But Schwartz made her own case most forcefully when she talked about her time as a consumer of VA services.
Gene Trotman, 59, of Waterbury, has been fighting for so long to get disability benefits from the Veterans Benefits Administration, he now wonders if “maybe they’re waiting for me to die.”
Trotman, an Air Force veteran who served in the early 1970s, initially sought benefits in 1991 for a psychiatric condition. After several denials, he was finally approved for disability compensation last July. But, he still hasn’t received any money. He is waiting for the VBA Hartford Regional Office to complete the process which determines how much he will get. Connecticut veterans typically wait more than seven months, an average of 213 days, to have claims processed, according to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs figures compiled by the Center for Investigative Reporting. As of Jan. 28, a total of 1,364 state veterans’ cases were backlogged out of 2,750 who have filed claims, the numbers show. Waits longer than 125 days are considered backlogged. For appeals of VBA decisions, the average wait is more than three years – 1,181 days.