U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin cheered the passage of a VA reform bill in the Senate, during an interview Wednesday on “The Laura Ingraham Show,” saying it will “allow us to be able to move out employees that aren’t doing their jobs anymore.”
Both Shulkin and President Donald Trump have committed to reforming the scandal-plagued department and allocating the resources needed to better serve veterans. Shulkin predicted the reform bill would be swiftly approved by the House and could be on Trump’s desk to sign next week.
“And that will go a long way toward helping to improve the system,” Shulkin said, noting that Trump “is committed to making sure that we do fix this problem, and that’s the reason that I’m here — to make sure that we get these problems addressed.”
Shulkin announced Tuesday the VA would also be overhauling its electronic records system, utilizing a commercial product from the Pentagon to improve veterans’ care. Trump hailed the announcement Tuesday, noting that it had taken the VA “not just days or weeks but many months for the records to follow the veteran,” thus causing “massive problems for our veterans.”
Shulkin also pledged to address two of the most chronic, tragic issues that impact many veterans: homelessness and suicide.
“The most vulnerable veterans that we know are those that don’t have access to health care or may be homeless. And that’s one of the reasons why the Department of Veteran Affairs and the president have put more money into ending veterans’ homelessness this year,” Shulkin said. “So we’re really focused on this issue and we need everybody’s help to make sure that we can do a lot better than we’re doing.”
“Our single highest clinical priority right now is to reduce the suicide rate. Unfortunately, 20 veterans per day are taking their lives by suicide,” Shulkin added. “The majority of them aren’t coming to the VA for care, and we want to make sure the people know everywhere … that the VA is here to be able to help these veterans in any way possible. And I’m taking a number of steps to be able to help.”
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Noting that the VA has added “a large number of new responders to our veterans crisis line that’s open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” Shulkin promised that if a veteran calls, “[he] will get immediate help.”
“We’ve also authorized mental health treatment for even those veterans that left the military with an other than honorable discharge,” Shulkin noted.
Another important step the VA secretary said he has taken has been identifying 1,100 taxpayer facilities — 400 from the Revolutionary War or Civil War eras and 700 from the World War I era — that are “either completely vacant or dramatically underutilized.”
“And to have the government continue to maintain those and heat them is costing us millions and millions of dollars,” Shulkin said. “So what I’ve said is I want to stop using government money to keep vacant and underutilized buildings open. Let’s put that money into actually helping veterans and reducing the suicide rate.”
“Right now I’m focused on making sure that there aren’t any veterans that are waiting for services and waiting for care that could be harmed. So that’s my primary focus,” Shulkin reaffirmed. “But I’ve also said that I do not believe that the problems in the VA are because we don’t have enough money or we don’t have enough resources. We have to think about doing our job directly, doing it smarter, modernizing the VA using technology. And I do think that will allow us to be more efficient. And so the workforce will change as technology changes, but right now our focus is on doing better for our veterans.”