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U.S. Senate unanimously confirms McDonald to head veterans agency

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Tuesday unanimously confirmed Bob McDonald as the next Veterans Affairs secretary, pinning Washington's hopes on the former Procter & Gamble Co chief executive to launch a massive turnaround effort at the troubled agency.

McDonald, 61, replaces retired Army general Eric Shinseki, who resigned in late May amid a scandal over cover-ups of long waiting times for health-care appointments at VA hospitals and clinics across the country.

The 97-0 vote to confirm McDonald comes a week after he pledged to bring corporate-style discipline and accountability to the agency, refocusing its 341,000 employees on serving veterans.

"In the wake of the biggest scandal in the history of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Bob McDonald certainly has his work cut out for him," House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller said after the Senate vote.

"In order to be successful, McDonald will need to take swift and decisive action to discipline employees responsible for mismanagement, negligence and corruption that harms veterans while taking bold steps to replace the department’s culture of complacency with a climate of accountability," Miller added.

McDonald, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point who served as P&G CEO from 2009 to 2013, is widely expected to start his new job with an extra $17 billion at his disposal to reduce months-long health care wait times in new legislation slated for passage by Congress this week.

The compromise measure reached by the leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives Veterans Affairs committees on Monday would allow veterans forced to wait more than 30 days for an appointment to seek care from private doctors at VA expense. It would provide $5 billion for the VA to hire more doctors and nurses and open 27 new clinics across the country.

The measure also would give McDonald sweeping new authorities to fire or demote VA employees for poor performance, subject to a 21-day appeal process. To date, no one has been dismissed at VA over the misrepresentation of wait-time data.

McDonald retired last year at P&G, best known as the maker of Tide detergent, Gillette razors and Crest toothpaste, amid a major corporate restructuring as some institutional investors had pushed for faster improvements in profits and better stock performance. The company brought back McDonald's predecessor, Alan Lafley, to serve as its chairman and chief executive.

(Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by James Dalgleish and Gunna Dickson)

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