This week Dr. David Shulkin was sworn in as the ninth secretary of Department of Veterans Affairs after receiving unanimous approval from the Senate.
MOAA was pleased to see Shulkin installed and ready to get on with the major business at hand, including continued implementation of many of the initiatives he pursued as the former undersecretary of the Veterans Health Administration (VHA).
“It's comforting to see that even in a highly politicized environment like we're currently in, the Senate can put aside partisan differences to focus on veterans and their needs,” said Cmdr. René Campos, USN (Ret), director of veterans and wounded warrior care for MOAA's Government Relations Department.
The new secretary has a tough road ahead of him, though, balancing the often competing priorities of Congress, the White House, his own agency, and the American public as well as the veterans he is committed to serving.
His first major action must be to work with lawmakers to extend the Choice Act, legislation allowing qualified veterans to receive care in the private sector. Under current law, the program is set to expire this August.
Extending the Veterans Choice Program (VCP) would also allow the VA time to put in place a new program to meet the rising demand for veterans' health care brought about since the VCP was established in 2014.
The Choice Act was Congress' answer to the reports of secret wait lists in the Phoenix VA Health Care system in Arizona. With only 90 days to implement what was initially a temporary program, the VHA had to establish a massive contracting effort to expand delivery of health care to veterans through an integrated network of civilian providers until the VA could address the demand within its own system.
Though initially plagued with problems, over time the VA and Congress implemented laws and adjusted policies to make it easier for veterans to access care through the VCP.
Today, more than 1 million veterans have been able to access care thanks to the Choice Act.
While Congress determines the next steps for the VCP, the VA also has taken lessons from implementing the program to create a new community care program.
MOAA and other veterans service organizations (VSOs) have worked closely with the VA over the years to ensure the veteran's perspective is considered during the VA's transformation.
On Friday, VSOs received another quarterly update from the VA's community care team, this time on how the VA will deliver pharmacy benefits, manage appointments, and pay civilian providers under a new community care contract.
MOAA will provide more details on the new program once the contract has been announced.
Secretary Shulkin also will appear before the House Veterans' Affairs Committee on March 8 to give an update on the Choice Act and to share with Congress what he is doing to improve access and quality of health care to veterans.
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