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Secretary Wilkie takes embattled Veterans Affairs Department
On ‘Special Report,’ the newly sworn in Veterans Affairs Secretary, speaks with Jennifer Griffin about the challenges he faces.
EXCLUSIVE: President Trump’s newly installed Veterans Affairs Secretary, in his first interview since taking office at the beginning of this week, sounded the alarm about the necessity of correction of a critical program, allowing veterans to see local private doctors instead of driving long distances to a VA hospital.
If the Federal government falls short, Secretary Robert Wilkie warned, “then the entire system is collapsing.”
For Wilkie, it is one of the most pressing in a series of challenges that he confronted if you are scarred of the rudder to the government of the second-largest Department – and, perhaps, its most scandal -.
“If we don’t get what we owe to the Americans the provision of the services to our veterans, then the entire system is collapsing.’
– VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, on physician payments
From his office perch two blocks from the White house, Wilkie prior to respondents, the task and networked in the popular private doctor of the program of millions of veterans. He told Fox News that he has promised the President he will have to deal with a glaring problem in particular: doctors stiffed get through the VA.
“The Veterans Affairs Department in the last eight to nine years has not paid these invoices to small-town doctors, municipal and hospital emergency facilities,” he said.
WATCH JENNIFER GRIFFIN’S EXCLUSIVE TWO-PART INTERVIEW WITH VA SECRETARY ROBERT WILKIE ON “SPECIAL REPORT WITH BRET BAIER” FRIDAY AT 6 PM ET AND ON FOX NEWS @ NIGHT’ WITH SHANNON BREAM TO 11 P.M. ET.
At the output of a program that was revised under this government.
To replace in June, trump signed a law that expand the afflicted veterans choice program adopted in 2014 under President Barack Obama, the access for veterans to see private doctors, and other providers to ease the burden on families forced to travel long distances for VA care.
“It makes no sense to me that we require someone to travel-we use a state like Montana where the distances are enormous, 600 or 700 miles round-trip,” said Wilkie. “You pass a lot of the doctors on the way. We need it to the doctors in the Veterans Affairs system.”
Wilkie said, though, if you can’t fix the doctor payment Problem, and “if we don’t get what we owe to the Americans the provision of the services to our veterans, then the whole system collapses.”
This is only the beginning, his challenges to the sprawling Department.
The VA has suffered from a series of high-profile scandals in recent years, with secret wait lists, systemic neglect, and even veterans are dying while they wait to see a doctor. Wilkie is the fourth Secretary of the VA in the past four years.
The VA’s $200-billion budget has doubled in the last decade. The new Secretary said, of the 370,000 employees under the network, “there are probably 100 bad eggs” in the system still.
One of the first things, Wilkie vowed to turn, though, is a perceived morale problem at the Agency, designed to serve 9 million veterans.
“This is an institution that has been buffeted by continuous strikes allowed to the body for a number of years,” Wilkie.
To address the problem, to be Wilkie plans to be more visible, not only in the headquarters in Washington, but VA hospitals across the country. Wilkie said he spent his first day-and-a-half to meet half as a Secretary to walk the halls staff, and joined them for meals in the cafeteria.
“I do not think that these simple things have done,” Wilkie said. “I fall back on my military life. I learned very early on, listen to those around my family to be, commander, to go you had to, your post.”
Wilkie, the son of an army-field-artillery-commander badly wounded, after several tours in Vietnam.
“He spent a year in army hospitals. He came to us weighing about half of what he was doing when he left you. I watched his recovery. It was excruciating,” Wilkie recalled.
So he knows first-Hand the difficulties families whose sons and daughters of invalids of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, some of which wheelchairs were stuff rejected because of sloppy paper.
“It is a culture, in some ways, that only sees a patient as just a generic number that comes through the system,” he said. “And this is not as it should be.”
Wilkie said, amputees and other severely wounded combat veteran “to the front of the line.”
Asked to pledge to get rid of a widely-criticized process force to make amputees, repeat trips to the VA to prove that you are still an amputee, Wilkie replied: “Absolutely.”
Wilkie has also tried to clear the air with Democratic senators to the proposal that the administration is eyeing a privatisation of the entire system.
At his hearing on Capitol Hill weeks after Trump the $to fix 55 billion bill veterans choice, Wilkie in the face of a hostile reception from Democratic senators are demanding to know whether he planned to do just that, something Wilkie’s predecessor said was the reason for his dismissal—to privatize not move fast enough.
In an interview with Fox News, Wilkie, such a step mentioned in need of support from Capitol Hill and said the Agency’s growing budget does not reflect to privatize a movement would be.
Pressed on whether Trump set that as a goal, Wilkie said, “no. The President wants to deliver the best possible care.”
Wilkie also shut down a Washington Post report that he plans to side line Trump loyalists, have erased long-standing VA staff fired because his predecessor was.
“No. In fact, I have not removed anyone,” said Wilkie, but would not exclude to do so in the future. “As part of a new leadership organization, you come in a team. They come in to assess. You can come re-arrange.”
Those who has given the VA a bad name, fire proved to be a challenge.
Last year, a disgraced former Director of the Washington, DC, Virginia had set again, only a month after the dismissal, although under his watch, it was found that the inventories were so bad that the doctors had to run, mid-procedure, and to borrow from the neighbouring hospitals, while patients are under anesthesia.
“The laws give the authority to override most of what I have to the normal bureaucratic protection for those in these situations,” Wilkie said.
Another problem is the loss of talent to the VA. More than 20,000 officials of the Trump management have left since the start. Some top jobs remain vacant, after 15 months, and the Department is short 33,000 doctors and nurses.
“We go crazy trying to fill all of the 33,000,” he said.
Wilkie served as assistant Secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, under the Minister of defense of Jim Mattis to lead before you get tapped of trump, the VA, after the President deposed Dr. David Shulkin at the end of March.
Asked whether he was worried that he might suffer the same fate as his predecessor, triggered by the tweet of Wilkie replied, “no, the last thing I be sure is one of the usual Washington back-and-forth. This President has been great to me.”
To work Wilkie worked in the Pentagon under Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, and had many years of experience on Capitol Hill for Sens. Thom Tillis and Trent Lott.
In his new office, Wilkie, now a portrait of Gen. Omar Bradley, the first Secretary of Veterans Affairs after the second world war, and Bradley’s has chosen Desk as his own.
“Bradley was with the task of changing VA, to accommodate 11 million soldiers from active service and in the VA series,” he said. “He was really a visionary.”
Fast forward to the modern era, and the VA is still struggling with similar challenges, absorb the soldiers coming home from two wars going back nearly two decades.
Wilkie ended the interview with a message to the veterans: “to know Something, what people need: We are the turn-veterans-to-bottom. A private institution, we can’t.”
Jennifer Griffin currently serves as a national security correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) and is the headquarters of the Washington DC bureau. She joined the network in October 1999 as a Jerusalem-based correspondent. You can follow her on Twitter at @JenGriffinFNC.