VA's Shulkin Wasn't Up to the Task of Pivotal Reform

Our veterans are getting the short end of the stick, and the VA needs a colossal overhaul.

Jordan Candler · Mar. 29, 2018

Not unsurprisingly, David Shulkin has been fired from the Department of Veterans Affairs — described by even The Washington Post as a “chronically mismanaged agency.”

After serving a nearly two-year role as undersecretary for health, Shulkin took the helm on Feb. 13, 2017. But his “leadership” barely lasted a year; on Wednesday, Shulkin was officially axed. The Post reports that he “has been mired in scandal over his charging taxpayers for luxury travel expenses and the infighting among his senior aides.” The inspector general also concluded that Shulkin fabricated his account when confronted about his misdeeds. His successor, the Post notes, is slated to be “Ronny L. Jackson, 50, an active-duty rear admiral in the Navy who has served for the past three administrations as a White House physician.”

Shulkin is not exactly pleased with how the situation culminated. He grudgingly wrote in a New York Times op-ed, “They [the administration] saw me as an obstacle to privatization who had to be removed. That is because I am convinced that privatization is a political issue aimed at rewarding select people and companies with profits, even if it undermines care for veterans.” Actually, recent VA secretaries wouldn’t have lasted as long as they did if the VA was privatized. While some of Shulkin’s achievements are admirable, the overhaul wasn’t as far-reaching as it needed to be, and his failure to wholeheartedly pursue private-sector-type reform — in which accountability generally isn’t elective — was his downfall. Had he done so, he would have both helped veterans and bolstered his job security.

The next secretary must flip the agency on its head. Just this week the Military Times reported, “Veterans Affairs officials employed more than 6,000 workers — many with access to patients and sensitive personal information — without performing proper background checks, according to a new inspector general investigation released this week. The news comes just months after the watchdog found that department leaders consistently failed to report potentially dangerous medical providers to outside health systems, a problem which raised patient safety issues not just for veterans but for the public as a whole.”

These findings are indicative of the kind of issues that appear permanently affixed to the VA — and its emblematic of how most government-managed departments are run. Yes, our tax dollars are being wasted because of it, but more importantly in this case, our veterans are getting the shorter end of the stick. The VA needs a colossal overhaul. Let’s hope Adm. Jackson represents somebody who’s finally up to the task.

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