Shulkin confirmed to lead Dept. of Veterans Affairs

Shulkin confirmed to lead Dept. of Veterans Affairs
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The Senate unanimously confirmed David Shulkin to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs Monday evening, capping off a relatively drama-free confirmation for the Obama-era official. 

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Senators praised Shulkin from the Senate floor ahead of the vote.

"Although progress has been made in recent years there are still changes at the VA we need to address. … I look forward to working with Dr. Shulkin on these matters," Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinThe Hill's Campaign Report: Who will Biden pick to be his running mate? Don't count out Duckworth in Biden VP race Schumer: Trump should want COVID-19 deal to help GOP election chances MORE (D-Ill.)—the No. 2 Senate Democrat said.

“I believe he’s the right person to head the VA today.”

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOn The Trail: The first signs of a post-Trump GOP Frustration builds as negotiators struggle to reach COVID-19 deal Shaheen, Chabot call for action on new round of PPP loans MORE (R-Maine) boasted about a trip Shulkin made to Maine, noting he had had a town meeting with constituents in her state.

“I was impressed and remain truly impressed with Dr. Shulkin’s understanding of the needs of rural veterans of the challenges of providing healthcare in rural settings,” she said. “Dr. Shulkin is an excellent nomination.”

In a sign of how uncontroversial his nomination is considered, senators agreed to vote after only 10 minutes of debate, following a week of Democratic all-night talk-a-thons against some of Trump’s more controversial nominees.

Shulkin cruised through his confirmation hearing, where he touched on the department’s backlog of benefits appeals and holding VA employee accountable.

Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - At loggerheads, Congress, White House to let jobless payout lapse Overnight Defense: Senate poised to pass defense bill with requirement to change Confederate base names | Key senator backs Germany drawdown | Space Force chooses 'semper supra' as motto Democrats call for expedited hearing for Trump's public lands nominee MORE (D-Mont.)–the top Democrat on the committee—pointed to the committee’s unanimous vote for Shulkin as a sign of the level of support he expected to see before the full Senate.

Schulkin pledged that he would not privatize the VA—a move that would draw quick backlash from Democrats.

Shulkin told lawmakers during the hearing that as the under secretary of health he has advocated for more cooperation between private-sector healthcare and the VA and would try to build an “integrated system” as secretary.

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

The VA has been under Congress’s spotlight since a 2014 scandal that found VA clinics across the country where manipulating data to downplay how long a veteran had been waiting for a healthcare appointment.

The scandal toppled then-Secretary Eric ShinsekiEric Ken ShinsekiVA might not be able to end veteran homelessness, but we shouldn't stop trying Bill HR 2333 is a good step to helping curb veteran suicide  Senate confirms Trump's VA pick despite opposition from some Dems MORE, who stepped down amid widespread criticism in May 2014.

Congress also passed legislation overhauling the VA’s healthcare system, but Republicans have remained critical of a bureaucracy that they believe takes too long, or fails, to punish employees who break the rules.

As VA secretary, he would be responsible for the entire $177 billion agency, from healthcare to benefits delivery and other support programs.

Shulkin said during his confirmation hearing that if he isn’t able to implement changes at the department, lawmakers should be prepared to ask him to step down.

"I am going to be serious about making these changes and regaining that trust, and if I don't do it, I should be held accountable, and you should replace me," he said.

He also pledged to work with Congress and to extend and reform the VA’s Choice Card program—which grew out of the 2014 legislation and allows some veterans to seek private care if they face a long wait time or don’t live near a VA facility.

Shulkin will be the first VA secretary who is not a veteran.

He was nominated by Obama in 2015 for his current post after Robert Petzel resigned as the under secretary of health because of the wait times scandal.