Sen. Isakson to VA: Time for No More Excuses
Friday, January 19th, 2018
U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, called on U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin to outline the progress made and challenges faced by the VA in implementing several pieces of critical veterans reform legislation passed by Congress and signed into law in 2017.
“Let me say at the outset that this meeting is not about what’s happened in the past,” said Isakson in his opening remarks. “It’s about what’s happening right now to correct some of the things that have happened in the past. This is an accountability meeting.”
“I’ve told the secretary that we want to really take the legislation that we passed last year …to give them the tools to address the significant problems confronting the veterans of America and begin moving away from the problems of the past and toward the solutions of the future,”Isakson continued.
Last year, the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs passed 10 major pieces of veterans legislation– all of which have been signed into law – that aim to strengthen veterans’ health care, benefits and support.
Of those, Isakson highlighted three specific pieces of legislation during today’s hearing that are critical to reforming the department and ensuring that veterans receive quality, timely and efficient services: The Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, theHarry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, and the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017.
“I want to thank Secretary Shulkin,” said Isakson. “The administration, our veterans and this committee are lucky to have him, but we are at the time where there are no excuses. There are no excuses for why we don’t correct the problems we’ve had with hiring, there are no excuses we don’t correct the problems we’ve had with IT, there is no excuse for not correcting the problems we’ve had with veterans’ appeals, among other areas. So this is all about accountability. It’s all about looking at what we have passed and looking for the results that are to come in the future so that we can do a good job for the veterans of the United States of America.”
Isakson pointed out the need to pass the pending Caring for Our Veterans Act to streamline and strengthen veterans’ healthcare services at the VA and in the community to ensure efficient, timely and quality care. He stated that he expects a proposal from the White House in the coming days to help move forward this legislation that was voted out of the committee by an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote on Nov. 29, 2017.
“My goal as chairman of the committee is to find a positive solution no matter what problem I confront, and not that it comes from my wisdom, but my persistence that we see to it that we keep our eye on the goal,” said Isakson. “One way or another, it’s time our veterans had policies that give them the choices they need.”
“Our veterans deserve the best of us, and the best of us is to pass a bill that we can agree on, and the best of us is to find the common ground,” Isakson continued. “So I intend to do that, and I appreciate the input the administration has given us, and I look forward to continuing to work with them and our entire committee.”
Isakson noted that all of these reforms are complex and require sustained focus from VA senior leadership. That focus must begin with the administration filling critical VA positions, four of which remain vacant: undersecretary for benefits, undersecretary for health, assistant secretary for information technology, and assistant secretary for accountability and whistleblower protection.
“One thing that concerns me deeply are the four positions that remain unfilled at the department,” said Isakson. “One is [Secretary Shulkin’s] former position, the undersecretary for health. The assistant secretary of accountability and whistleblower protection is not in place. The undersecretary for benefits, which is a critical position the VA needs, need to be in place. And the secretary of information technology, which is absolutely critical, particularly with the Cerner information coming in, has got to be filled somewhere sooner rather than later. We’ve got to find a way to get the best people in the United States of America in the disciplines, working for the VA and for our veterans.”
Isakson noted that veterans are counting on the swift and successful implementation of these legislative reforms. Isakson ended his questions by thanking Veteran Service Organizations for their contributions in the crafting and implementation of VA reforms.