“My sole focus is veterans and making sure their needs are met.” ~ Secretary of the VA, Dr. David Shulkin
Dr. David Shulkin, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, told Senators at his confirmation hearing that the VA would not be privatized under his watch.
The Military Officers Association provided more than fifty questions to the Senate Veteran Affairs Committee to be posed to the new Secretary, who is the first non-veteran to head up the VA, and the only Trump Cabinet member to have served in the Obama Administration.
Q: Where do you stand on privatization?
A: The VA is a unique national resource that is worth saving, and I am committed to doing just that. … I will seek major reform and a transformation of the VA. There will be far greater accountability, dramatically improved access, responsiveness, and expanded care options, but the Department of Veterans Affairs will not be privatized under my watch. … If confirmed, I intend to build a system that puts veterans first and allows them to get the best possible health care wherever it may be — in the VA or with community care.
Q: What will you address first, and how will you measure success?
A: When I came to the VA I focused on the most urgent health care needs of our veterans first and reorganized our approach to reflect that. The VA now has same-day services in primary care and mental health at all our medical centers to make sure our veterans get the urgent care they need, when they need it. Only one goal is important to me – to ask veterans if they are satisfied and that we have their trust – these really are the only outcomes.
Q: How will you handle the backlog on claims?
A: Though we have brought the backlog down to 60,000 claims, we have to continue our work to eliminate the disability claims backlog…What we will need is legislation that would allow us to reform the outdated appeals process as proposed by Congress in the session.
Q: What will you do about the underperforming employees and how will you address the entrenched bureaucracy across the department?
A: I came to the VA during a time of crisis…I soon discovered that years of ineffective systems and deficiencies in workplace culture had led to problems. … It is unfortunate that a few employees who deviated from the values we hold so dear have been able to tarnish the reputation of so many who have dedicated their lives to serving those who have served. … I don’t have a lot of patience. I am going to be serious about making these changes and regaining trust, and if I don’t do it, I should be held accountable, and you [Congress] should replace me.
Q: Will veterans be able to continue to receive quality care at the VA or have to go through the maze which exists in the Veterans Choice Program?
A: My sole focus is veterans and making sure their needs are met. … Of the more than one million veterans who have taken advantage of the Choice program, only about 5,000 have sought care solely in the community. The rest used both VA and community services. … We [VA and Congress] need to work closely together to extend and reform the Choice program to ensure veterans are able to seek the care in the community they need. … I would design VA health care system on clinical need vs. mileage. … We need to take the complexity out of the program and remove the bureaucracy between requirements and patient need.
Q: Will health care professionals working in the VA health system see comparable wages to those in the private sector?
A: Of the over 350,000 VA employee positions, we have over 45,000 vacancies and have filled about 37,000. … It’s been difficult for VA to recruit for those 45,000 positions due to reports of long wait times and years of bad press which has hindered the department’s ability to recruit and retain top talent. … We must partner with local providers, expand telehealth services, and provide financial incentives to attract talented doctors and medical professionals, particularly in rural areas — we need Congress’ help to do so.