We honor those who have served our country on Veterans Day, but year round we should appropriately honor the veterans who are deserving our respect and gratitude. As a part of that respect, they deserve the quality health care from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) they were promised. These men and women put their life on the line for us. They deserve a VA health care system that is dependable, efficient, and top of the line.
President Trump picked Secretary David Shulkin to lead the VA and improve veteran care. Secretary Shulkin has made it clear that he is not satisfied with the status quo.
He is a doctor. Before serving the VA, he held chief executive positions at various health care centers. Highly regarded in the private sector, he earned a reputation for driving down costs and focusing on patient centered care. He left his highly-compensated, private sector job to serve those who served our country. As he has done throughout his career, he continues to see patients so he doesnât lose focus of the priority of improving care. Now he does this at the VA hospitals.*
Secretary Shulkin recently met with a group of us in Congress and explained he wants veterans to have options. He is not interested in privatizing the VA, because he believes the VA can provide care for the unique mental and physical issues that veterans encounter, in a way that canât be found in the private sector. He wants veterans to choose the VA because of its quality.
He envisions an improved Choice program. In a recent C-SPAN interview he said, âWe need to make sure the Choice program not only continues, but it works better for veterans. And we know it hasnât worked the way we wanted it to work. Itâs too complex, itâs too hard to use.â*
With this improved competition from the Choice program, Secretary Shulkin believes that the VA will necessarily have to increase its customer service and competitiveness compared to outside programs. And he fervently believes the VA can do this. He wants veterans to choose to go to the VA, instead of having no option but the VA.
Secretary Shulkin told us he believes certain aspects of care might be able to be outsourced to the private sector. For example, providing veterans with eye glasses.
He discussed with us a situation that he has been made aware of, where in some situations, to get a simple pair of eye glasses, veterans are required to make up to three visits, wait three weeks, and then be issued a standard black pair of glasses.
Itâs hard to believe this is the type of service we provide to our courageous service men and women. And instead of having every aspect of veteransâ care done at the VA, like eyeglasses, we should have our VA hospitals focused on dealing with traumatic brain injury, PTSD, and state of the art artificial limbs.
As a sign of positive change coming to the VA, in April, Secretary Shulkin launched a new website called Access to Care. (www.accesstocare.va.gov) This is a public posting of wait times and other data for every VA facility in the country. The website allows patients to compare facilities, with features such as âHow Quickly Can My VA Facility See Me?â or âHow Does Care in My VA Facility Compare to Other Hospitals in the Area?â
This is a significant effort to increase transparency and hold the facilities that are not meeting expectations responsible.
Congressman Phil Roe, who represents East Tennessee, is Chairman of the Committee on Veteransâ Affairs. Phil is working hard to get legislation passed to improve the VA. This year, we have passed a number of bills relating to VA reforms, in May alone we passed seven of these bills. The legislation expands access to care, provides better service, and demands more accountability. We have sent them to the Senate for the Senateâs approval.
I will continue supporting Chairman Roe and Secretary Shulkin in their mission to improve the VA. We owe this to our veterans.
If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at www.morgangriffith.house.gov. Also on my website is the latest material from my office, including information on votes recently taken on the floor of the House of Representatives.