Shulkin pledges no 'learning curve' as VA secretary

The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee conducted a bipartisan hearing to elevate current VA Undersecretary for Health to lead the agency, while elsewhere in the legislative chamber, panels were at odds over other Trump cabinet picks.

David Shulkin USH VA
 

Dr. David Shulkin, a holdover from the Obama administration, appears headed to easy confirmation to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs.

As turmoil over President Donald Trump's cabinet nominees roiled the Senate, one prospective agency head seemed to sail through his hearing, earning plaudits from both sides of the aisle.

Dr. David Shulkin, an Obama administration holdover, was tapped by Trump to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs. Shulkin is currently that department's undersecretary for health, and in charge of leading VA's massive system of hospitals and medical centers.

Shulkin's nomination was announced, almost as an aside, at a January press conference in which the then-president-elect outlined plans for management of his many businesses during his presidency.

Trump had floated many other names, including Cleveland Clinic CEO Toby Cosgrove, a onetime candidate for the post under Obama. Other candidates included former Sen. Scott Brown, Lockheed Martin Senior Vice President Leo Mackay and Pete Hegseth, a Fox News commentator and leader of a group in favor of privatizing the VA.

"I want you to succeed, I really do," said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), the new ranking member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. "But there was a reason it took so long to find someone to sit in that chair today."

While Trump frequently spoke on the campaign trail about privatizing the VA, there appears to be little appetite for the move in the Senate, or among mainstream veterans' service organizations, where there is broad support for the reforms underway to allow some access to private sector care via the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014.

Committee Democrats warned of backroom plans to take the VA private, while Republicans dismissed such fears as overblown. In any case, Shulkin said he was not there to execute that policy.

"The Department of Veterans Affairs will not be privatized on my watch," Shulkin said.

Shulkin sought to reassure members on hiring as well, saying he'd secured a commitment from the White House to exempt 37,000 of 45,000 current agency job openings, on the grounds that they are critical and related to health and safety.

He also updated the committee on plans to fix the VA's notoriously problematic scheduling system.

The VA is testing an internally developed scheduling system called the Vista Scheduling Enhancement, which interfaces with the VA's homegrown health record system. Shulkin said that VSE "will be ready for a decision on Feb. 10, whether it's a go or no-go."

A VA spokesperson subsequently told FCW that if approved for national implementation, VSE would be deployed beginning in March through May of this year, starting in Primary Care.

VSE was developed as a low-cost alternative to a commercial scheduling system – which was the original plan to address VA's scheduling woes.

At an April 2014 House hearing, Shulkin explained that the adoption of the commercial Medical Appointment Scheduling System was being put on "strategic hold" during the VSE development and testing.

In the Feb. 1 confirmation hearing, Shulkin was firm on the need for a change.

"They're using what I would call old blue DOS screens to schedule," he said. "I don't even know how they do their jobs."

Members of both parties said they were looking for a swift confirmation, but cautioned that Shulkin won't have much runway to prove he can do the job.

"You're not hearing me asking for a learning curve," Shulkin said. "I'm eager not to waste another day."

Delays and rule changes

At the VA hearing, committee chairman Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) praised the panel for avoiding the "monkey business" that was going on in other committees.

Fierce Democratic opposition to some of Trump's nominees led to a breakdown of normal businesses across the Senate.

The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee suspended its quorum rules and favorably reported the nominations of banker Steven Mnuchin to lead the Treasury Department and Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) to lead the Department of Health and Human Services on party line votes with no Democrats present.

At the Senate Oversight and Government Affairs Committee, Democrats blocked a vote on the nomination of Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) to lead the Office of Management and Budget. That meeting and vote was rescheduled for Feb. 2.

NEXT STORY: Dave Mader joins Deloitte

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.