Two Vietnam veterans emerged Wednesday as frontrunners for the post of Veterans Affairs Secretary in the Trump administration despite the pleas of major veterans service organizations to keep current VA Secretary Robert McDonald on the job.
At his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida Tuesday, President-elect Donald Trump met first with Luis Quinonez, an Army veteran of Vietnam and founder of IQ Management Services, which provides health care services to the government and the private sector.
Trump also met about the VA post with heart surgeon Dr. Delos "Toby" Cosgrove, chief executive officer of the sprawling Cleveland Clinic, a network of non-profit hospitals and clinics, and an Air Force veteran of Vietnam. Cosgrove was considered for the VA job two years ago when then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned under pressure, but turned it down to stay at the Cleveland Clinic, Ohio's largest employer.
Quinonez confirmed to Univision that Trump discussed with him taking on the task of running the $180 billion-a-year VA and overseeing its 340,000 employees. "I just finished a two-hour interview with him (Trump) and his team and, yes, I confirm that I am under consideration," Quinonez said.
Quinonez, who was born in Guatemala, is currently the only Hispanic on Trump's 16-member transition advisory team and also is a member of Trump's Hispanic Advisory Council.
The 75-year-old Cosgrove has been an outspoken critic of President Obama's Affordable Care Act, charging that the landmark legislation has hamstrung doctors with red tape.
Cosgrove recently agreed to be on a new Trump advisory group on jobs and the economy, and he also met with Trump last week in New York City at Trump Tower. Cosgrove is well-known at the Cleveland Clinic for handing out "patients first" buttons as a sign of the clinic's commitment to same-day appointments with a doctor.
Trump, who has pledged a major overhaul of the VA to cut down on wait times and expand veterans' access to private care, was expected to make his VA choice known before Christmas.
More than 20 veterans organizations and advocacy groups have supported retaining McDonald. Separately, the "Big Six" veterans service organizations met earlier this month with members of the Trump transition team.
Joe Chenelly, director of AmVets, told the New York Times after the Big Six meeting that "we all support McDonald," but Verna Jones, executive director of the American Legion, said Thursday that the constitution of the 2.2 million member organization bars making endorsements and the Legion was taking no position on McDonald.
In addition to Cosgrove and Quinonez, Trump also has a number of other individuals under consideration for the VA post. On Monday, he met with retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who was widely respected for taking control of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Also mentioned as possibilities for the VA position were former Sen. Scott Brown, a Massachusetts Republican; outgoing House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff miller, a Florida Republican; and Iraq war veteran Pete Hegseth, a Fox News contributor and the former head of Concerned Veterans for America, an advocacy group backed by the industrialist Koch brothers.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.