WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s pick to lead Veterans Affairs promised Wednesday to “shake up complacency” in the wrestling department by the expansion of the own care to better meet the growing needs of veterans, but he rejected a wholesale dismantling of VA.
Robert Wilkie, currently serving as undersecretary in the Pentagon, says the VA needs to work faster and better with a rapidly growing population of veterans. He said that he will not tolerate persistent problems of long waiting times and bureaucratic delays and will strive to quickly implement a new law signed to facilitate the access to private health care providers.
“There are no more excuses,” he told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. “You have a drip VA with a $200 billion budget passed, the Accountability Act — to shake up complacency — and you have passed the Mission of the Law to bring the institutional VA, social care and healthcare providers closer together. The future of the department.”
Still, he said the government-run VA can never be fully replaced by the private sector and that the quality of VA care remains high. The new law easing the restrictions on private care gives the VA secretary broad authority to decide when veterans can bypass the VA, based on whether they received the “quality” of care.
At the confirmation hearing, senators grilled Wilkie on the future direction of the VA and whether he could stand up to the White House. The department is paralyzed by political battles over the role of private care for veterans, a problem that former-VA-Secretary David Shulkin says led to his fall. During the 2016 campaign, Trump promised to send more patients to the private sector, to say, last July, he would triple the number of veterans “seeing the doctor of their choice.” Currently, there are more than 30 percent of VA appointments are made in the private sector.
Wilkie said that he would oppose “privatisation” and continue to strengthen the core-VA medical centers.
When pressed by Sen. Jon Tester, the top Democrat on the panel, if he would be willing to disagree with a Trumpet, Wilkie replied, “yes.”
“I have had the privilege to work with some of the most high-powered people in this city,” said Wilkie, who works for the Minister of Defence, Jim Mattis, and previously served under Donald Rumsfeld, President George W. Bush’s secretary of defense. “They pay me for their opinion, and I give that to them.”
Wilkie is expected to be easily confirmed by the Senate. After the hearing, Sen. Johnny Isakson, the Republican chairman of the committee, said that he would back Wilkie’s nomination, just as a Tester, which will be send-Democratic vote for Wilkie in the narrowly divided chamber.
Trump selected Wilkie for the post last month after the firing of Shulkin amid ethics charges and the installation of internal revolt in VA. Trump’s replacement of choice, of the White House doctor Ronny Jackson, was forced to withdraw his nomination after allegations of workplace misconduct surfaced.
Wilkie, 55, served as acting VA secretary after Shulkin’s to shoot in March, before returning to his role as undersecretary of the Pentagon, a post he was confirmed unanimously in November last year.
He got mostly positive reviews from veterans ‘ organizations, although they stressed he had a tough job ahead in solving VA. Some of the senators half-joked Wednesday that he should be prepared as a VA secretary for a “public flogging,” or something like that, if he does not work fast to get the job done.
“Mr Wilkie will have to prove to millions of veterans nationwide, that he to this mammoth, holy leadership task,” said Paul Rieckhoff, founder and chief executive of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
In his testimony, Wilkie said that he would try to outsource more routine to your own doctors, to help trim waiting times for medical appointments. But he stressed his opinion that VA medical centers can offer unique services in the treatment of battlefield injury.
“I have experienced what can never be duplicated in the private sector_the common aspect of VA,” said Wilkie, noting his time as the son of an Army artillery commander and as acting VA secretary. “What does that mean? It means that when our veterans take a walk in a VA facility they are talking with men and women who speak the unique language of the military service.”
Asked again by senators on his commitment to the VA’s health arm, Wilkie said: “I am against the privatization of the Veterans Affairs Department and will continue to ensure that the MSW is fully funded.”
Previously, Wilkie was an assistant secretary of defense in President George W. Bush administration.
He had also worked on Capitol Hill for more than a decade, that if counsel to the conservative Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N. C., and former Sen. Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss. During his time at the Pentagon, he shepherded two defense secretaries the Senate confirmation.
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