David Shulkin was sworn in Tuesday February 14, 2017 as the new secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department after being unanimously confirmed by the Senate the day before. So who is David Shulkin, and what does he hope to accomplish as VA Secretary?
David Shulkin previously held the position of Undersecretary for health for the Department of Veterans Affairs (this position runs the Veterans Health Administration) in 2015. Prior to this, David Shulkin, a doctor, served in executive roles at several hospitals and hospital systems. He also founded a health care information company called DoctorQuality. While his family has a history of military service (both of his grandfathers served in World War I, and his father was a psychiatrist who was an Army captain), Shulkin is actually the first person to serve as VA Secretary who has not served in the military.
In his post on the VA’s official blog (Vantage Point), Shulkin stated he would fulfill “out nation’s obligation to provide care and benefits to those ‘who shall have borne the battle’ and full out institutional I CARE Values: integrity, commitment, advocacy, respect, and excellence.” One of Shulkin’s top priorities as VA Secretary is to ensure VA employees are held accountable for their actions. In a recent televised interview, Shulkin promised to “crack down on underperforming employees” at the VA. In order to do so however, there would need to be legislative reform to make it easier to fire VA employees.
During Trump’s campaign, the need to improve mental health care for veterans as a means of suicide prevention was discussed multiple times. Shulkin has stated that he feels this is an important task, and that the VA will announce “bold proposals” for how improving mental health care for veterans can be accomplished.
Shulkin has also proposed getting rid of a policy that limits veterans’ ability to receive private-sector healthcare. He explained how, as VA Secretary, he would like to redesign the Veterans Choice Program into what he called “Choice 2.0.” This would mean doing away with the rule that veterans can go outside the VA for health care if they had to wait more than 30 days for an appointment or if they lived more than 40 miles from a VA facility. Instead, under “Choice 2.0,” every veteran would have the ability to choose between the VA or private-sector health care.
Other priorities that Shulkin discussed, include better coordination with the Department of Defense, making the VA infrastructure better, improving information technology, and making quicker decisions on disability and pension claims. Shulkin also has said that he wants to continue increasing access for veterans, preventing homelessness, addressing the needs of women veterans, and providing support for veteran’s families and veteran caregivers. Hopefully, Shulkin can provide new leadership that steers the VA away