Senate Committee Shows Early Support for VA Secretary Nominee
The Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee on Tuesday during a confirmation hearing for Robert McDonald, President Obama's nominee for Department of Veterans Affairs secretary, expressed concerns about the problems plaguing the agency but voiced bipartisan support for McDonald's confirmation, the New York Times reports.
The committee is scheduled to formally vote on McDonald's confirmation on Wednesday (Huetteman, New York Times, 7/22). A full Senate confirmation vote could follow before Congress' August recess, according to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) (Lawder, Reuters, 7/22).
Lawmakers Voice Concerns, Support for McDonald
During the hearing, lawmakers listed the issues currently plaguing VA and asked McDonald how he aims to address those concerns. Lawmakers said that the department is dealing with widespread management issues, fraud, an increasing number of veteran suicides, a shortage of health care professionals and outdated scheduling technology, as well as a backlog of claims (Henneberger, Washington Post, 7/22).
McDonald said he would improve performance and modernize technology at VA to make the department into "an organization that delivers on its mission."
Specifically, he said he would boost accountability within the organization and also make himself personally available to members of the committee should they have continuing concerns. He also said that he would travel to regional VA facilities, speaking to both VA employees and veterans, to improve communication and better understand the issues facing the department.
In addition, McDonald said that he had already met with Department of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and would work with the Pentagon to integrate VA's electronic health record systems, as well as tackling VA's outdated scheduling technology. He said that during his first 90 days as secretary, he would speak with all VA sites in a nationwide video conference to outline his vision for the agency and incentivize employees who have proactive ideas about how to resolve the department's problems.
McDonald also said he would establish a board of physicians to advise VA's leadership on best practices for delivering health care to veterans (O'Brien, CQ Roll Call, 7/22).
Acting VA Secretary Pledges To Address Retaliation Allegations
In related news, acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson on Tuesday pledged to crack down on whistleblower retaliation, following reports from a government watchdog group about how VA mistreated employees who voiced criticism of the department (AP/U-T San Diego, 7/22).
The watchdog group, Project on Government Oversight, compiled its report on whistleblower retaliation from complaints it received through a website it created in May, as well as comments and complaints filed by nearly 800 former and current VA workers and veterans. According to POGO, it has received allegations of misconduct from 35 different states and the District of Columbia through the site (Daly, AP/U-T San Diego, 7/21).
Gibson, speaking at the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said VA is "not going to tolerate" retaliation against whistleblowers (AP/U-T San Diego, 7/22).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.