A New Direction at the VA
We are fortunate to live in the United States, where our men and women in uniform sacrifice so much to defend our liberty. We owe our servicemembers and veterans a debt of gratitude that we can never fully repay. However, one thing we can do is uphold the promises our nation has made to them over the last several generations, and we can do that by making improvements and changes within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
The Senate recently confirmed Robert Wilkie to be the VA Secretary. Prior to his confirmation, Mr. Wilkie served as Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. He has also served in the U.S. Air Force Reserve and in the U.S. Navy Reserve. Mr. Wilkie has had firsthand experience dealing with the VA, as his father was wounded three times while serving in Vietnam. As a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I had the opportunity to meet with him prior to his confirmation and ask important questions during his hearing before the committee. It is clear that he is well-qualified to lead the VA, especially at a time when the agency is attempting to improve its mission of serving our nation’s veterans.
With 360,000 employees, the VA is the second-largest federal agency. It is also, unfortunately, one of the most scandal-ridden and mismanaged agencies. We remember in 2014 when the VA admitted that veterans were waiting on average 115 days just to see a doctor. More recently, we’ve heard about the new VA hospital in Colorado that is more than $1 billion over budget because the contractor failed to account for the size of medical equipment during construction and the rooms were too small to fit everything. Not to mention the project was years behind schedule.
Mr. Wilkie has a tough job ahead of him as he seeks to clean up the VA and improve care for veterans. In the past, the agency has shown protectionism for bad employees instead of taking care of veterans. Under Wilkie’s leadership, we hope to see that change. He understands how critical it is that we provide healthcare and other services to veterans across the country, and he understands the challenges he is facing. I believe he is the right person at this time to lead the VA and make certain that care of veterans is priority number one for all VA employees.
When I had the opportunity to question Mr. Wilkie at his confirmation hearing, I shared with him my concerns regarding the recently-enacted VA MISSION Act, including the 40-mile rule change that could hurt rural veterans, the “gatekeeper” provision that requires a veteran to get approval from a VA employee to seek care outside of the VA, and a “VA BRAC,” which could jeopardize the future of the Hot Springs VA facility. I told him that I am ready to work hand-in-hand with the VA to address these issues as they implement the VA MISSION Act.
The men and women who have sacrificed so much in service to our nation deserve to know that the VA will support them and make good on our country’s promises to them. The care of veterans is my number one priority. I believe that it is Mr. Wilkie’s main concern as well, and I look forward to working with him as he takes on the challenges of managing the VA.
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