Veterans, lawmakers hope Trump administration brings more VA reform

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Veterans groups and lawmakers, who have long sought to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs, are hopeful Donald Trump will live up to his campaign promises as he moves into the White House.

Trump campaigned on promises to further reform the embattled agency, focusing specifically on plans to strengthen the ability of senior leadership to fire under-performing employees and also improving the quality of care provided to veterans.

Then-candidate Trump outlined his plan to reform the VA to a room full of veterans last August in Charlotte during a speech to the VFW national convention.

"The VA scandals that have occurred are widespread and inexcusable," Trump said in his speech. "I'm going to use every lawful authority to remove and discipline federal employees or manager who breach their public trust."

That promise to increase accountability within the agency is something many veterans groups want to see turned into reality.

Nate Anderson, Deputy Executive Director of Concerned Veterans for America, said he and his group are hopeful the Trump administration will deliver.

"We're not going to see progress until reforms are made," he said. "You've got to start somewhere and we think the accountability piece is the groundwork for larger reforms."

Trump has tapped an Obama appointee who currently works at the VA to lead the agency.

Current VA Undersecretary David Shulkin has been nominated to serve as secretary. Shulkin, who is a medical doctor by training, has been at the VA for about a year-and-a-half.

Anderson said Shulkin's experience at the VA, combined with his previous medical experience and his time spent turning around a private medical system, make him a qualified candidate to usher in Trump's promised reform.

"He understands the process, the people, the culture. He's a very good candidate on paper," Anderson said. "Shulkin has also been part of a failed approach under Secretary (Robert) McDonald, so we have to keep that in mind as we go forward."

Shulkin has attracted praise from North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis, who serves on the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. Tillis issued the following statement in response to Shulkin's nomination:

"Dr. Shulkin has demonstrated his commitment to reforming the VA, and he is a fine choice to lead the department. As VA Secretary, Dr. Shulkin will help accelerate the progress the department has recently made, particularly when it comes to moving forward with the MyVA initiative to streamline the VA bureaucracy. Over the last two years, I've had the honor of working directly with Dr. Shulkin and Secretary McDonald on this initiative."

Shulkin himself has publicly written about reforms he would like to implement at the VA to increase the quality and quantity of care the agency provides to veterans.

He penned an article in the New England Journal of Medicine last year in which he argued the VA can no longer meet the demand for medical care from veterans with its own existing infrastructure.

Instead, Shulkin advocated for a three-layered approach to providing veterans medical care that includes the current VA health system and two layers of private providers.

Currently, veterans have the option of seeking care from a private provider in instances where they would have to wait too long to see a specialist or live too far away from a VA medical facility.

That program, called VA Choice, has been riddled with problems and has been the subject of a string of WBTV investigations.

Many veterans groups have resisted calls from some Republicans to further privatize the VA's medical services, something candidate Trump downplayed in his speech to the VFW last August.

"The Veterans Health System will remain a public system because it is a public trust," he said.

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