VA nominee: Agency won't be privatized under my watch

VA nominee: Agency won't be privatized under my watch
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President Trump’s choice to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, David Shulkin, will firmly pledge Wednesday not to privatize the agency, a top concern of many veterans’ organizations.

“There should be no doubt that if confirmed as secretary, I will seek major reform and a transformation of VA,” Shulkin will say at his confirmation hearing, according his prepared remarks. “There will be far greater accountability, dramatically improved access, responsiveness and expanded care options, but the Department of Veterans Affairs will not be privatized under my watch.”

Shulkin, who is currently the VA's under secretary of health, is expected to be confirmed easily, having won praise from Republicans, Democrats and veterans groups.

But those groups were also looking to see where Shulkin stands on privatization.

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Trump and his team have called for allowing veterans to visit private-sector doctors rather than VA doctors. Most veterans groups have blasted such plans as amounting to privatization, saying they would undermine the VA by shifting resources away from it.

As under secretary of health, Shulkin has advocated for greater integration of private-sector providers with the VA. But he hasn't backed the type of plans veterans groups call privatization.

Shulkin will say he has shown his commitment to moving care into the community rather than at the VA, pointing to a 10 percent increase in the amount of care provided by the community under his tenure as under secretary.

“But, veterans still tell us that even with the ability to seek care in the community, they want VA services,” he will add.

If confirmed, Shulkin will build an “integrated system of care,” he will say.

“Should I be confirmed, I intend to build an integrated system of care that would strengthen services within VA that are essential for veteran well-being and use services in the community that can serve veterans with better outcomes and greater value to the taxpayer,” he will say.

The VA should be exploring public-private partnerships in addressing infrastructure needs, he will add.

“We must explore expansion of public-private partnerships rather than continue building medical centers that have large cost overruns and take too long to build,” he will say.

He will also pledge to work closely with Congress to extend and reform the Choice program. The Choice Card program, through which some veterans facing a long wait time or far distance to a VA facility can seek private care, is set to expire in August unless Congress renews it.

“With the support of the members of this committee and others in Congress, veterans and their service organizations, the dedicated employees of VA and the American people, we can fulfill President Lincoln's promise and our sacred mission ‘to care for him who shall have borne the battle,’” Shulkin will conclude. “There is no nobler mission or higher calling for me, and it would be my distinct honor and privilege to lead this effort.”