Trump’s VA pick wants to improve care, but not by privatization

David Shulkin
David Shulkin

David Shulkin, M.D., President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, said during his confirmation hearing Wednesday that he would seek major reforms within the VA but he wouldn't endorse privatizing the system.

“There will be far greater accountability, dramatically improved access, responsiveness and expanded care options,” Shulkin told the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, according to a report from The Washington Post. “But the Department of Veterans Affairs will not be privatized under my watch.”

An internist, Shulkin previously held many chief executive roles, including president of Morristown Medical Center, Goryeb Children’s Hospital, and Atlantic Rehabilitation Institute, and the Atlantic Health System Accountable Care Organization. He was also the president and CEO of Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City.

Shulkin told the Senate committee that he was willing to expand private-care partnerships with VA hospitals in order to avoid building costly new medical centers.

“What I told [Trump] is, is that I’m a strong advocate for the VA, that the services that are available at the VA are not available in the private sector, and that my view of where VA needs to go is an integrated system of care taking the best of VA and the best of the community,” Shulkin said, according to The Hill.

In response to a nationwide scandal involving secret lists to cover long wait times throughout the system, Congress approved a program in 2014 that allowed veterans who faced long wait times for care or a long distance to a VA facility to seek private care. When he was asked about the program, Shulkin said he would have based the program on clinical or urgent care need, not mileage or wait times, according to The Hill.

A recent NPR investigation into the outcome of that legislative fix found the billions spent to get veterans faster access to care didn’t work as intended. Among its findings: New hires weren’t sent to VA hospitals with the longest wait times and the facilities that did get additional, new staff didn’t necessarily see improved wait times.

But Shulkin told the publication that wait times aren’t the most important measure. Efficiency is up, he said, and fewer veterans are waiting for urgent care.