Dr. David Shulkin believes lessons of the television show “Shark Tank” can be applied to improving the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Shulkin, the VA secretary, said Tuesday that the program fostering entrepreneurs rewards those business ideas that solve problems. And the VA, he conceded, has problems.
“I firmly believe we can fix this system,” he said at the VA Center for Innovation. “And the way we can fix this system is through transparency, and being open and honest with the problems we have.”
The VA Department that Shulkin inherited has some issues to work out, not least of which linger from the Veterans Health Administration scandal of 2014. Long wait times, falsified records and general negligence of care for veterans tarnished the reputation of the federal agency.
Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran, a Republican who chairs his chamber’s Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees veterans affairs, has been a leading voice in pushing for reforms.
Most recently, Moran helped guide legislation that fixed a budget shortfall in the Veterans Choice Program, which became law in the aftermath of the scandal. The Senate passed the measure last week with a unanimous vote. The House also approved it by a 414 to 0 count.
“Veterans deserve the best our nation has to offer, and this is a proven program that veterans like and need,” Moran said after the Senate vote.
The Veteran Choice Program aimed at providing private health options for VA patients living more than 40 miles from a VA facility, waiting more than 30 days for a medical appointment or living in a remote state like Hawaii or Alaska.
In April, President Trump signed into law the Veterans Choice Improvement Act, which extended the program and fixed some of the problems cited by users and health care providers.
That measure contained a miscalculation of funding for the program, and the money thought to be available until January suddenly looked to be exhausted by some time in August.
Moran, speaking on the Senate floor ahead of the congressional recess, took issue with Shulkin about a directive sent by the VA to its regional administrators, and later rescinded, to stop referring patients to Veterans Choice because of the funding situation. Moran noted that 30 percent of all VA health care is run through Veterans Choice.
“We now hear of veterans who are forced to drive hours to get appointments at VA facilities when, just two weeks ago, they were receiving that care in their hometowns and in their neighborhoods, nearby opportunities that no longer exist,” the Kansan said at the time.
The action last week addressed the funding issue.
According to the VA, Missouri had 488,000 veterans as of late 2015. Of those, 200,041 were enrolled in the VA health care system.
Kansas had 218,000 veterans in 2015, with 87,157 of them enrolled in VA health.
In the 20 counties covered by the St. Joseph News-Press, there are 27,725 veterans as of this year, including 6,711 in Buchanan County.