For 1st Time in 2 Years, VA Has a Full-Time Benefits Chief

VA Under Secretary for Benefits Joshua Jacobs.
VA Under Secretary for Benefits Joshua Jacobs. (Dept. of Veterans Affairs photo)

The Department of Veterans Affairs will have a full-time benefits chief for the first time in two years after the Senate confirmed President Joe Biden's pick for the job.

In a Wednesday afternoon vote of 74-25, the Senate approved Joshua Jacobs to take the role of the VA's under secretary for benefits.

In that job, Jacobs will lead the Veterans Benefits Administration, or VBA, which manages about $135 billion worth of disability compensation and other non-medical benefits for 350,000 veterans or their survivors.

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He takes the job at a critical time for the agency as it handles an influx of claims stemming from the PACT Act's expansion of benefits to veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxins during their military service. Hours before Jacobs' confirmation, the VA announced that it has received more than 500,000 PACT Act benefits claims and awarded more than $1 billion in benefits for those claims.

"Veterans, their families, caregivers and survivors deserve world-class benefits for their service to our country, and there's nobody better to lead VA in delivering those benefits than Josh Jacobs," VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement after Wednesday's vote. "Josh is an excellent leader who has dedicated his career to advocating for veterans -- and under his leadership, I'm confident that VA will continue delivering more benefits, more quickly, to more veterans than ever before."

Jacobs has served as the acting under secretary of benefits since last year. He is a longtime VA employee who also previously worked as deputy staff director for the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

While Jacobs received strong bipartisan support, his confirmation was slowed by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who placed a hold on Jacobs last month in an effort to force the VA to answer questions about an ethics investigation into a former employee.

Grassley's hold required the Senate to find time for a roll call vote on a nominee who faced no opposition when he came before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee earlier this year.

Grassley's objection to Jacobs centered around letters the senator sent to the department about the former executive director of VBA's Education Service, Charmain Bogue. Last year, an inspector general investigation, done at Grassley's request, found that Bogue worked on issues involving an advocacy group that her husband worked for as a consultant without consideration for whether she should recuse herself over a potential conflict of interest.

Grassley has said he has a number of outstanding questions for the VA about the case, including whether a whistleblower was retaliated against, and that answers Jacobs sent him during the confirmation process were "unsatisfactory" and "evasive."

Jacobs represents the Biden administration's second attempt to fill the VBA job on a permanent basis. The administration's first nominee withdrew from consideration amid GOP concerns about alleged contract impropriety during his time at the Labor Department, despite an inspector general report clearing him.

Jacobs' confirmation means the VA has Senate-confirmed officials leading all of its three main sub-agencies -- the VBA, the Veterans Health Administration and the National Cemetery Administration -- for the first time since 2014, the department said in its statement after Wednesday's vote.

-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.

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