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WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) – Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans’ Affairs and Related Agencies – convened a hearing on Thursday, May 12, with Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Dr. David Shulkin and Deputy Undersecretary for Care in the Community Dr. Baligh Yehia to discuss VA’s plan for reforming VA community care and the Veterans Choice Program to better meet the needs of veterans.

“I was encouraged by the secretary’s vision for how the VA healthcare system ought to operate by putting the needs of the veteran ahead of the needs of the department,” Sen. Moran said. “No veteran should be forced to drive long distances or wait months to receive the care they have earned, and Secretary Shulkin and Dr. Yehia were clear that the VA must work to regain the trust of the veterans it serves – that begins with a new system that prioritizes the best interests of veterans.”

During the hearing, Secretary Shulkin praised introduction of the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act (S. 1094). The bill would help him reform the VA by allowing him and future VA secretaries to dismiss bad employees and ensure due process protections for whistleblowers. Additionally, he answered a question from Sen. Moran about conditions at the District of Columbia VA Medical Center.

Click here to watch the hearing. Highlights can be found below:

Sen. Moran: “…We're here to find out how we can be helpful in making certain that whatever occurs in the future in regard to programs for veterans within the community are ones that work well and meet the needs of veterans across the country: rural, urban, and suburban.

Sen. Moran: “You indicated to Senator Schatz in – in response to one of his questions…that increasing costs associated with healthcare are related to demographics, number of veterans, aging veterans. And yet you indicated earlier that you expect to be able to…fund this program within the FY18 president's budget request. But how can you…do that?”

Sec. Shulkin: “Well, first of all, as you know, we only have the skinny budget now, but the president did request a 6.6 percent increase in our budget. So we are very grateful that the president has recognized the resources that we need to be able to continue…improving care for veterans. But I do believe that we are now embarking upon addressing some of the inefficiencies in the system, and as we aggressively move towards modernizing the system, we've got to streamline the amount that we put into administrative overhead and we have to fix some of the deficiencies. Because asking for and receiving a 6.6 percent increase year after year is just not sustainable and it's not the right thing for the country. So we're taking it upon ourselves to develop a system, and part of this is why we believe we need a high-performance network so that we can reward those that are doing care better and more efficiently…so that we are not coming back and asking for these types of increases.”

Sen. Moran: “I do want to bring to your attention a letter that…the House and Senate received from the Inspector General yesterday. It was a letter to Dr. Alaigh on conditions at the District of Columbia VA Medical Center. OIG issued a report on April 12th. They are now reminding us again yesterday of serious conditions, according to the IG report at that hospital. And I want to make certain that you and the VA are taking the steps necessary to correct those problems…what I hope you assure me is those steps have already been taken.”

Sec. Shulkin: “Yes, Mr. Chairman. And I appreciate the chance to comment on this. We do appreciate the IG’s work and their continued vigilance to make sure that our facilities are up to the standards and providing the best quality care. And so we work closely when the IG issues these reports to us. We had people on site there yesterday from the central office. I would say two things: First of all, what they observed yesterday was actually a process that works. When we identified that there was any safety concerns to a patient, we simply stop the procedure and corrected the situation, so that there has not been, in any of these Inspector General concerns, any evidence of harm ever to a veteran. Secondly, their letter that was issued to you did not have fully accurate information. We have written back to the IG to share our perspective so that what we’re trying to do is to do exactly what you’re saying, which is to make sure we are on top of these issues, monitoring it. We have no safety concerns today about patients being cared for there. We do believe that it is a high-quality environment. But we will be vigilant and we will work with the IG to make sure that we are addressing the needs as appropriate.”