In an interview series with Fox and Friends this week, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin discussed his plans for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) – how best to care for vets, how to reform a broken VA system, and how to ultimately keep the promises made to veterans. Dr. Shulkin said that if Congress “expects the VA to be fixed they have to give the Secretary the authority to be able to fix it.” That authority, ideally, should allow Secretary Shulkin to fire poor performing employees, hold his staff accountable, and truly address wait times and quality of care issues.
Wait times and quality of care are not going to be easy issues to tackle, especially with opposition to veterans receiving care outside the VA. However, Dr. Shulkin strongly suggested that he supports empowering veterans with choice over where and when to see a doctor. In the interview, he said that “a veteran deserves the very best health care anywhere. That means sometimes, they should go out into the private sector if something’s being done better than the VA. The veteran [should make that choice].” To that end, he said that he’s looking to build an integrated system that is the “best of VA, the best of the private sector” in which “the veteran is able to take advantage of both systems.”
These are encouraging statements from Dr. Shulkin. He has stated his willingness to work with Congress and have little leniency for misbehavior. Hopefully that translates into legislation that gives veterans choice in their health care options, such as the Caring for Our Heroes in the 21st Century Act. Dr. Shulkin has a difficult task ahead of him, as the broken VA is the second largest government agency with a budget of $182.3 billion dollars. But right now, we are cautiously optimistic.
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