“You know the problems and there ought not be a significant learning curve.”
Feb 02 2017
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) this week questioned the President’s nominee for Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Dr. David Shulkin, about the VA’s pattern of unresponsiveness to members of Congress attempting to help constituents with VA healthcare and benefits and the Department’s history of thwarting congressional intent in application of the laws Congress has passed. Sen. Moran also reminded Dr. Shulkin to work more closely with Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs) in the future on VA reform and of his efforts to get answers from the VA as to how a physician assistant the Leavenworth VA Hospital could have been allowed to commit crimes against veterans and then retire instead of being fired.
Sen. Moran’s questions were related to answers he expected to receive as follow up from his meeting with Dr. Shulkin on Jan. 24 in his Washington, D.C., office.
Dr. Shulkin committed to Sen. Moran that he will work to expand the VA Choice Program and fix the issues with its implementation to solve the problems so many veterans and health care providers are facing.
Highlights of the exchanges may be found below, along with links to the videos:
During Sen. Moran’s first round of questioning:
Sen. Moran (:16): “I am looking for assurance that the VA is going to be different than it has been… A couple of things that have troubled me about the VA. One is that the outreach to members of Congress, responsiveness, our ability to get VA attention on casework and individual veterans’ problems… has been miserable… the VA is failing not just Congress but veterans that we are elected to serve and try very hard to care for. Another example of the VA’s lack of concern for Congress is it seems to be in way too many instances, perhaps all, in legislation that we pass, the VA then narrows the scope of that legislation, thwarting congressional intent. I just sat here listening to you testify and was thinking about three instances just in the Choice Act. Remember the early days of 40 miles in which it was ‘as the crow flies’? That is a way to deny veterans benefits that Congress intended for them to have. Ultimately corrected, that’s a good thing, but interesting to me that’s where the VA started. The full time physician – what is the definition of a facility… we tried to redefine what a CBOC is based upon a full-time physician. The VA then narrows it, not 40 hours as most of us would expect a full-time physician to be, but something less than that. Again thwarting the efforts of Congress, the intent of Congress to serve our veterans. The one that you and I talked most about in my office, and I’m hoping that you have some good news, is the opportunity for us to correct this issue of unusual and excessive burden, in which we indicated that you can have choice… but you the VA narrowed it by limiting the procedures that then qualified, again narrowing the opportunity for veterans to be served by Choice.“
Dr. Shulkin (2:32): “I can give you good news on that… those were meant to be examples, I think the field took them literally that these were the only five conditions, so we have gone out now nationally and clarified that to give the flexibility that you need…. This is complex business when we’re making laws and implementing them. These examples are going to continue to come up. My commitment to you, if I’m confirmed as secretary, is we have to have these types of conversations and this type of communication, because you’re hearing from constituents and you have information. We need to get back to you in a timely fashion, that’s why I’m committed to that. We’re gonna continue to have these differences in interpretations but in the end, we both want what’s best for veterans, and I believe we’ll come up with the right solutions like in this example where I just gave you good news.”
Sen. Moran (5:47): “How would you grade yourself? If you come to this committee six months from now, what would be the scorecard by which we could determine, I could determine, whether you’ve met the goals of your service as the Secretary of the Department?”
Dr. Shulkin (6:08): “There’s only one goal that’s important to me. Ask the veterans what they think of the services that they’re getting, what their trust level is, of us, in terms of being able to deliver that. That’s the most important outcome. We can define metrics on how to do that, but this is an organization, I think this is really what you’ve been saying all along, that has to be veteran-centric. That’s the only reason we exist. That’s the only reason why you have a secretary, to make sure that they’ve advocating on behalf of them. So let’s ask them and let’s see if we’re doing a better job.”
Sen. Moran (6:42): “Dr. Shulkin, you have the advantage of having served in the VA for 18-20 months. It’s also a disadvantage because I put you on a higher platform as somebody who can’t use the excuses, ‘I’m gonna go out and ask veterans what they need.’ You know. You know the problems, and there ought not be a significant learning curve. Yours is not about conducting a townhall meeting and learning from veterans what the problems are… You have the ability, the background, to actually solve the problems.”
During Sen. Moran’s second round of questioning:
Sen. Moran (1:09): “You have responded to a letter of mine… What specific authority do you need to discharge the kind of people that Jon Tester just said we need to get rid of? The example that we used with you in the letter you responded to me is the physician assistant who committed sexual acts against PTSD patients at Fort Leavenworth, the hospital, and he was allowed to retire. That has those victims of those crimes wondering, how did the VA let this happen in the first place but secondly, why wouldn’t this person be fired instead of retired?”
Dr. Shulkin (1:59): “I look forward to working with you on that because I don’t want to be overseeing an agency that allows that to continue to happen.”
Sen. Moran (2:06): [to Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.] “Mr. Chairman, I am anxious to help you in any way I can as we try to make certain that the VA does it job well, to support the secretary and the employees at the VA. I look forward to working with you as the Chairman of the MilCon/VA Appropriations Subcommittee to see that good things happen. You can convince me that money is the issue, but first of all convince me that we’re using the money that we get today in the very best way.”