Robert L. Wilkie, former secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, joined The Heritage Foundation as a visiting fellow in the Center for National Defense, part of the Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy. As a visiting fellow with the center, Wilkie provides vital research and analysis on improving veterans programs, promoting military and national service, and improving defense personnel programs.
Wilkie was confirmed as VA secretary by the U.S. Senate on July 23, 2018, and served in the position until January 2021. Prior to his confirmation, he served as under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness under Defense Secretary James Mattis. In this role, he was the DOD’s principal adviser on total force management issues, including readiness, National Guard and Reserve component affairs, health affairs, training, personnel requirements, and quality of life for military families, to name just a few.
In his time as VA secretary, Wilkie helped improve the agency’s performance addressing the needs of America’s approximately 9.5 million veterans. Trust in VA health care outpatient services rose to 90% among veterans during his tenure as secretary. Wilkie also oversaw implementation of the MISSION Act, which provided more veterans access to care and services in their communities. He also helped modernize VA’s health record system and concentrated attention on suicide prevention, opioid addiction, and educational opportunities for veterans.
The son of an Army artillery commander, Wilkie is also a colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve. Before joining the Air Force, he served in the U.S. Navy Reserve with the Joint Forces Intelligence Command, Naval Special Warfare Group Two, and the Office of Naval Intelligence. Secretary Wilkie served in the staff of the National Security Council and assistant secretary of defense in the George W. Bush administration. He also has extensive experience working on Capitol Hill, including service as senior adviser to Sen. Thom Tillis, and counsel and adviser on international security affairs to former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott.