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VA Embarrasses Itself at House Hearing

By John Cooper

VA Embarrasses Itself at House Hearing

The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing Tuesday to learn more about what the VA is doing to improve delivery of health care to veterans, and make sure they can access it in a timely manner. Unfortunately, Congress and the American people were treated to a show of incompetence and shifting of responsibility by Dr. David Shulkin, under secretary for health.

Shulkin implicitly downplayed his responsibility for reform when pressed on VA’s inability to provide timely care. Congressmen and women from both parties voiced their displeasure with the VA’s failure to deliver timely care to veterans in their district, and in response to much of this justifiable anger, Shulkin frequently responded with some variation of “Congressman, as you know, this was a problem long before I arrived at the VHA.” Shulkin has been under secretary for nine months.

Perhaps the most telling moment came during an exchange between Shulkin and Congressman Tim Huelskamp (KS-1). Huelskamp asked Shulkin whether an employee at the Puerto Rico medical center, who had been convicted of armed robbery, was still on the VA’s payroll, as recent media reports had found that she was in fact still a VA employee. Shulkin responded that it was his understanding that the woman was no longer working for the VA.

At the end of the hearing, Chairman Jeff Miller (FL-1), who had left the proceedings a short time earlier, returned and informed the committee, the witnesses and the attendees that the woman was still employed and being paid by the VA. The collective intake of breath throughout the room was palpable.

This part of the hearing shows what’s wrong with the VA. The leader who is supposed to be administering veterans’ care and reforming the system really doesn’t know the employment status of an employee in the administration who was the subject of news reports? The sheer incompetence in this fact alone speaks volumes about the trust department leaders have earned with us. We need leaders who are committed to reform, and that means knowing whether or not they are still employing convicted felons.