Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin on Tuesday morning defended the Trump administration’s 2018 budget and discussed his department’s plans to increase internal accountability and cooperation with private hospitals.
Shulkin addressed concerns that the department’s plan to expand the Veteran’s Choice Program, which allows veterans to seek health care at private facilities if their VA hospital is overbooked or too far away, is an attempt to privatize VA health care. Shulkin said that the VA would continue to invest in world-class facilities to treat veteran-specific issues like post-traumatic stress, spinal cord injuries, and behavioral health care, while increasingly partnering with private facilities for needs such as maternity care.
“I’m interested in building world-class services that I know the veterans of this country must rely on us for,” Shulkin said. “I’m not interested in building world-class services that already exist in a world-class way in the private sector.”
When asked whether the VA would need to ask Congress for additional money to implement these plans, Shulkin said that the department simply needed to reallocate money from other VA programs. Shulkin last week told Congress that the Choice program had a shortfall of more than $1 billion because of increased demand from veterans.
“The fact that the Choice funds are being spent at greater rates than what we had anticipated just means that we’re getting more patients to be seen,” Shulkin said. “It doesn’t mean that the VA needs more money; we have the money already available in other allocations of funds. What I don’t have is the ability to do what managers everywhere else can do, which is to use money from one part of the budget and move it to another part of the budget.”
The Department of Veterans Affairs has been attempting to implement reforms since 2014, when it was discovered that inefficiency and unaccountability had caused wait times to see a doctor at many VA hospitals to spiral out of control. Some VA hospitals released falsified information to hide these waiting times. A VA report found that “about 1,700 veterans in need of care were ‘at risk of being lost or forgotten’ after being kept off an official waiting list.”
The latest attempt to prevent these problems from recurring is the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017, which President Trump is expected to sign Tuesday. The bill makes it easier for VA supervisors to fire underperforming employees, although some critics worry that the bill will not address the VA’s underlying workplace culture of irresponsibility.
“I am not one to say that this accountability bill is absolutely perfect, but I am convinced that we need to take a different path,” Shulkin said.
This post originally appeared on Weekly Standard