Over the weekend, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin joined reporters to discuss upcoming changes and initiatives at the VA in the wake of the Phoenix wait list scandal anniversary. So far during his tenure, Dr. Shulkin has made some encouraging comments on accountability for VA employees, choice for veterans, and transparency in his department.
Last week was an appropriate time to underscore the need for accountability, choice and transparency. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) released an interim report stating veterans at the Washington, DC VA facility were in “imminent danger” due to quality of care concerns. It’s rare for the OIG to release a report before investigation is completed, however, the situation in DC is so bad he felt it necessary to alert the public immediately. Last week also marked the three-year anniversary of the Phoenix wait list scandal that opened the public’s eyes to extreme wait time manipulation at the VA.
Secretary Shulkin has addressed the need for accountability on several occasions now, and is actively urging the Senate to take up the VA Accountability First Act of 2017 to allow his more authority to fire bad actors and hire better employees. He made sure to clarify that these problems within the VA are not “financial problems.” With the second largest budget of any federal agency, we would hope the VA isn’t lacking in resources.
Dr. Shulkin also addressed the need for better integration between VA care and private sector care. This week President Trump signed into law an extension of the Choice Program which allows veterans who qualify to seek care in the private sector. The program has been wrought with problems since its implementation. Shulkin recognizes this and stated:
We need to make sure the Choice Program not only continues, but that it works better. And we know it hasn’t worked the way we wanted it to work. It’s too complex; it’s too hard to use. So we are working hard now with Congress to redesign a better, improved way of accessing care in the community. We hope to bring it for legislative decisions in the early fall.
Shulkin has stated a commitment to allowing greater access to private care for veterans. As a doctor himself he knows the values of both the VA and private sector and believes they can work together to care for veterans, but that veterans should have the choice of who they see for care. Shulkin stated:
I believe our way to fulfill our commitment to America’s veterans is to keep a strong VA but integrate it with what the private sector is doing that the VA isn’t doing, or that the VA isn’t doing as well. So I’m looking to design a single system that’s seamless so veterans can get the best of what VA offers and the best of what the private sector can offer as part of an integrated approach to care.
If Secretary Shulkin can accomplish his stated goals on accountability and choice reform at the Department of Veterans Affairs, it would be a huge win for veterans. Good first steps have been made in calling for these reforms and being more transparent with the public, and we hope to see this steps continue.
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