WASHINGTON (WISH) — VA Secretary David Shulkin suggested that while the VA has made progress in wake of recent scandals, there are still plenty of problems within the Department of Veterans Affairs that need fixing.
And he suggested that his agency will need help from Congress and the private sector in order to right the ship.
During a rare appearance in the White House briefing room Wednesday, Shulkin told reporters that too many veterans are still waiting too long to access health care, that their disability claims are taking too long to process, that the VA is taking too long to pay back private healthcare providers – pushing them away from the Veterans’ Choice program – which threatens to eliminate choices for veterans who rely on the VA for health care.
Shuklin identified 13 focus areas that included issues such as: access to care, quality of care, information technology, facilities, waste, fraud and abuse and veteran suicide among others.
Shulkin also urged Congress to pass legislation that would streamline the VA’s ability to fire bad employees. He called the current structure “broken.”
While Shulkin said President Trump’s budget proposal adequately funds the VA needs, he did add that there is one exception – information technology – which he suggested needs improvements.
“The problems in VA are not largely gonna be solved through additional money, these are going to be solved through management practice, focus and legislative changes. Our issues are not because we are lacking the financial resources to accomplish our mission.
“We have 20 of our facilities that have out of date systems for IT and inventory and that makes it very, very difficult for doctors and nurses to get the supplies that they need to get for veterans — this is what we saw in the Washington DC VA several weeks ago. We’ve taken immediate steps to begin to start to fix these inventory systems and we are executing on those plans,” Shulkin said.
A recent I-Team 8 investigation exposed how the Indianapolis VA has failed to keep track of nearly a million dollars worth of medical equipment that was later deemed to be lost, stolen or simply misplaced.
Our report also exposed how the VA has failed to fully implement a $500 million contract for real-time location systems – essentially placing tracking devices on the medical equipment.
The VA says it’s been fully implemented in roughly one third of the 152 VA medical centers nationwide.
Shulkin said about 75 percent of the VA’s information technology budget is simply maintenance and sustaining the current infrastructure, adding that there is a need to privatize portions of it and get the VA out of the software business.
Among Shuklin’s other findings:
- 14 VA medical centers are providing less than adequate care compared to private sector hospitals in those areas. None of these so-called “one star” medical centers are located in Indiana.
- There are 90,000 disability claims that take more than 125 days to clear, which Shulkin says is unacceptable.
- Shulkin also urged Congress to act on legislation to remove barriers that prevent VA administrators from being able to fire problematic employees within the VA system. The current system delays administrators ability to action to fire, demote or suspend a federal employee.
- The White House will roll out a “soft opening” Shulkin says of a veteran complaint hotline. The hotline opens on June 1st. The number is 1-855-948-2311.