April 9, 2018

Is VA privatization a 'myth?' The VA says so, as secretary nominee touts readiness

Daily Briefing

    Veterans Affairs (VA) on Thursday issued a press release stating that the Trump administration is not working to privatize VA's health system.

    You've filled the position. Now what?

    Background

    VA issued the release as some advocates have raised concerns that President Trump's recent decision to replace former VA Secretary David Shulkin meant the administration was looking to move forward with proposals to further privatize VA health care.

    Trump has appointed Robert Wilkie, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, to serve as acting VA secretary until a permanent replacement is confirmed. Trump has nominated Navy Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, who currently serves as the White House's top physician, to replace Shulkin as VA secretary.

    VA looks to dispel 'myth'

    The release, titled "Debunking the VA Privatization Myth," stated, "There is no effort underway to privatize VA, and to suggest otherwise is completely false and a red herring designed to distract and avoid honest debate on the real issues surrounding veterans' health care."

    Instead, the release highlighted efforts for VA to partner with community care providers, which the release stated VA has been doing "since the World War II era." The release stated, "Currently, VA operates seven distinct community care programs. VA is working with Congress to merge all of VA's community care efforts into a single, streamlined program that's easy for veterans and VA employees to use so the department can work with veterans to coordinate their care with private providers when VA can't provide the care in a timely way or when it's in veterans' best medical interest." It continued, "The fact is that demand for veterans' health care is outpacing VA's ability to supply it wholly in-house. And with America facing a looming doctor shortage, VA has to be able to share health care resources with the private sector through an effective community care program."

    Jackson says he has 'what it takes' to lead VA

    Trump's VA secretary nominee this weekend also addressed separate questions about whether he has the leadership experienced needed to head VA, Axios' "Vitals" reports. Jackson during an interview with the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal published Sunday said, "I've been in leadership school for 23 years now. ... And I've been able to rise to the level of an admiral, a flag officer in the Navy. I didn't just stumble into that. So I've gotten a lot of leadership background, I've got a lot of leadership experience as a Navy officer, and I've got a lot of day-to-day leadership experience."

    Jackson continued, "You know, I'm not just an officer in the Navy; I'm an emergency medicine physician in the military. I've been confronted on a day-to-day basis with life and death decisions." He added, "I think I've got what it takes, and you know, I don't buy into that argument at all."

    Senate uncertain how to move forward with Jackson's nomination

    Meanwhile, some lawmakers are uncertain about how to proceed with Jackson's nomination because he also has a promotion pending with the Navy, the Washington Post reports.

    According to the Post, the White House has said that Jackson intends to remain on active duty until he is confirmed as VA secretary, if the Senate votes to do so. If confirmed for the post, Jackson at that point will retire from service.

    A Senate aide speaking on the condition of anonymity told the Post, "This whole situation is very much out of the norm," adding, "There's some question here whether [Jackson's] flag officer nomination will move forward given his VA nomination. It's all [to be determined], because he can't serve in both positions concurrently, so it wouldn't make sense for the Senate to move the nominations concurrently."

    According to the Post, the White House did not respond to requests for comment on whether it would address the conflict (Wentling, Stars and Stripes, 4/5; VA release, 4/5; Diamond, "Pulse," Politico, 4/6; Baker, "Vitals," Axios, 4/9; Michael, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, 4/8; Shelbourne, The Hill, 4/8; Samuels, The Hill, 4/8; deGrandpre, Washington Post, 4/8).

    You've filled the position. Now what?

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