Robert McDonald cited problems with patient access to health care, transparency, accountability and integrity, among other issues.
"The seriousness of the moment demands urgent action," McDonald told the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. "The VA is in crisis. The veterans are in need. There is a lot of work to do to transform the department and it will not be easy, but it is essential and can be achieved."
McDonald, 61, a former Procter & Gamble CEO and an Army veteran, said taking care of veterans is personal for him. His father served in the Army Air Corps after World War II, and his wife's father was shot down over Europe and survived harsh treatment as a prisoner of war. Another relative was exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam and receives care from the VA, McDonald said, and a nephew is in the Air Force, deployed in the Middle East.
If confirmed by the Senate, McDonald said he would take a series of actions over his first 90 days "to deliver the needed reforms our veterans deserve."
He said he plans to lay out a veteran-centered vision for the department and improve communication within the vast agency, which includes more than 300,000 employees in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. His plan includes frequent video conferences with employees and extensive travel to field offices around the country, he said.
No opposition surfaced during the 2 ½-hour hearing, and senators from both parties said McDonald appeared headed to easy confirmation.
"I believe, based on what I heard, you are going to be confirmed, and I hope that is the case," Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the chairman of the Senate veterans panel, told McDonald as the hearing ended.
The Senate panel will vote Wednesday on McDonald's nomination, Sanders said, with a vote by the full Senate likely before the August recess.
Republican Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas was among a host of Republicans to declare support for McDonald, a Republican who supported GOP nominee Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election.
Moran was the first senator to call for Eric Shinseki to step down as VA secretary this spring. Shinseki resigned May 30 amid a growing uproar over treatment delays and falsified records at VA hospitals and clinics nationwide, including reports that dozens died awaiting treatment.
The VA's acting inspector general has confirmed investigations of possible wrongdoing at 87 VA medical facilities nationwide.
Moran, who met with McDonald last week, said he was impressed by the nominee's "candor, sincerity and commitment to serving" veterans. "The VA bureaucracy must be dismantled and Mr. McDonald is focused and ready to take on the many challenges that lie ahead," Moran said.
Sanders also said he was impressed with McDonald.
"I believe that his years of military service will make him a very strong advocate for veterans, and that his corporate leadership gives him the experience to bring about the management changes — in terms of accountability and transparency — that the VA needs," Sanders said.