VA Secretary David Shulkin, MD joins Robert Traynham to discuss improvements underway for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Improving transparency, customer service and continuity for veterans is a top priority along with improving wait times for health care and VA employee accountability. This discussion continues in part 2 of VA Transparency and Priorities.
Robert Traynham: The US Department of Veteran's Affairs provides healthcare services, education programs, and vocational rehabilitation employment services to more than nine million veterans each year. Hello, everyone, and welcome to Comcast Newsmakers, I'm Robert Traynham. Dr. David Shulkin, the United States Secretary of Veteran's Affairs, joins me to discuss some top priorities in all the agencies today. Secretary Shulkin, welcome to the program.
David Shulkin: Thank you, glad to be here.
Robert Traynham: Let's talk about the elephant in the room, and that really is the wait times that many veterans are experiencing across [00:00:30] the country.
David Shulkin: The first thing that we've done is we focused on those veterans who have clinically urgent problems, to make sure that those who can't afford to wait for care are getting care at the right time. We've established same day services across every one of our major VA medical centers for primary care and mental health, so people can get access on the day that we need it. The second thing that we've done is, we've made sure that we're making more appointments available, both in the VA, but also out in the community. [00:01:00] Now if people are waiting for care, we're getting them out to the private sector. The final thing that we've done is, we've published our wait times for everybody to see. They can see where the wait times are good and where they still need to be improved. We're the only health system in the country who has done that.
Robert Traynham: Why do you think, Mr. Secretary, it's taken your action, your leadership, your vision to be implemented for this stuff actually to materialize? I guess what my question really is, is how did we get here? How did we get into this situation?
David Shulkin: I think, unfortunately, [00:01:30] we've learned the lesson time and time again that when we send our young men and women off to war or conflict, that we don't do an adequate job of planning for their needs when they come back home. We're always playing a little bit of catch up. I think were now really beginning to understand that the day that we commit these men and women to going off to defend their country, we have to be prepared to commit to them for life, and to make sure that we prepare for their needs when we come [00:02:00] back home.
Robert Traynham: I want to transition to the staff. I'm not sure how many tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people that work in your department, but it appears that there was a little bit of, I don't know what the right word would be, not laziness, but lack of accountability on many different levels. How have you addressed this issue?
David Shulkin: First of all, the vast majority of the men and women who serve in the VA are dedicated patriotic individuals who are doing it for the right reason, because they believe in the mission of caring for veterans. [00:02:30] In any organization, you have some that have lost their way, that don't share that commitment. The VA had been slow in making sure that those individuals were accountable, were identified and actually asked to leave the VA. We've really begun to tackle that, and we now have a new law, the Accountability Law, that allows me as Secretary to be able to remove people from their jobs if they've really deviated from accepted professional behaviors.