Retired Lt. Gen. James Peake, a decorated combat veteran and the former U.S. Army surgeon general, is the first physician to take the helm at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Peake was sworn in as VA secretary today after being confirmed by the Senate on Dec. 14.
Dr. Peake takes office at a critical moment in the history of this department, President Bush said during the swearing-in ceremony. Our nation is at warand many new veterans are leaving the battlefield and entering the VA system. This system provides our veterans with the finest carebut the bureaucracy can be difficult to navigate.
During his confirmation hearing earlier this month, Peake, 63, pledged to improve the care that wounded servicemen and women receive as they transition from active duty to civilian life. As part of that directive, Peake said he would work to improve the lines of communication between VA and the Defense Department.
Peake became secretary one day after federal lawmakers approved an appropriations bill that funds the VA at $43.1 billion for fiscal 2008, or about 18% more than it had this time last year. The Veterans Health Administration will receive the majority of that funding, taking in $37.2 billion to help treat the 5.8 million patients who are expected next year. Included in the patients the VA expects to treat are more than 263,000 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan54,000 more than fiscal 2007, or about 26% more.
Peake said he is committed to working with those troops and others, saying that he deeply believes in the mission. -- by Matthew DoBias