Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin has been on a mission to reform the VA. His efforts range from increasing accountability and authority to fire bad actors and poor performers to moving toward interoperability of health care records with the Defense Department, among various other initiatives. But he wouldn’t be able to get near as much done without some key allies in Congress.
Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) told the Federal Drive with Tom Temin that while other VA secretaries have been well-intentioned, as a medical practitioner, Shulkin has focused his goals on improving the practitioner side of VA’s delivery of health care.
“He’s been a catalytic force for more accountability in terms of the organization. And he’s certainly been more willing to work with the political side of it,” Isakson said.
One of the ways Shulkin has engaged the political side is by introducing the Veterans Coordinated Access and Rewarding Experiences (CARE) Act in October. The act would have updated the Veterans Choice program in fundamental ways, like eliminating the distance and wait time requirement for veterans to seek health care from a private sector provider.
That provision and others made it into the Senate’s Caring for Our Veterans Act, which passed the Senate VA committee in late November. Isakson said the bill should be on the Senate floor soon.
“It will be the last dot of the ‘I’ and the crossing of the ‘T’ in terms of Veterans Choice because it will ensure that we use the private sector to the maximum extent possible to be a force multiplier in terms of health care services to our veterans and give easier accessibility to health care to our veterans whether its private or public,” he said.
The bill would also authorize coordination of care for veterans, which Isakson said is extremely helpful to individuals with multiple health issues, like veterans or seniors.
Isakson said the VA Choice program will improve accessibility of health care to veterans, while providing them more options in where to get it.
“Health care is health care, whether it’s in the VA or in the private sector,” he said.
Even outside of health care, Isakson supports Shulkin’s efforts at reforms in the VA, like moving toward interoperability in health care records. He said that the best decision of Shulkin’s term thus far has been getting VA on the Cerner contract.
“To adopt the same software the Department of Defense uses gives us a chance to have a seamless medical IT system between Veterans health care and the active duty,” he said.
He predicts the move will improve the flow of information, resolve some technical issues, and make benefits easier to access for veterans.
“Let’s make the veterans benefits as accessible and easy to get to as possible and the results of their medical treatment the best possible whether it’s private sector or VA. I think we’re moving in that direction,” Isakson said.
Daisy Thornton is Federal News Network’s digital managing editor. In addition to her editing responsibilities, she covers federal management, workforce and technology issues. She is also the commentary editor; email her your letters to the editor and pitches for contributed bylines.