Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary David Shulkin said Thursday that he supports veterans receiving care from the private sector if that care is superior to the care offered by the VA.
Pete Hegseth, once himself a candidate for the position of secretary of the VA, sat down with Shulkin on the show “Fox & Friends” to discuss Shulkin’s vision for the department under the new Trump administration.
As part of that interview, Shulkin mentioned that he backs the idea of veterans being allowed to seek care from the private sector if the VA is not up to snuff.
“A veteran deserves the very best health care anywhere,” Shulkin said. “That means sometimes, they should go out into the private sector if something’s being done better than the VA. The veteran [should make that choice] … and what I’m looking to do is to build a system, what I call an integrated system, of care. The best of VA, the best of the private sector — the veteran’s able to take advantage of both systems.”
Charles Schmidt, national commander at The American Legion, said he will meet with Shulkin later Thursday to encourage him not to pursue any privatization proposals.
While Shulkin has said he won’t privatize the department, it seems clear that different groups may have different definitions of privatization.
“He said he opposes privatization and that it would not happen under his watch,” Schmidt said Thursday at the National Press Club. “The American Legion has so far been impressed with him. But we do plan to hold his feet to the fire and help him deliver on those promises.”
In contrast, Shulkin’s remarks could be interpreted as support for the Veterans Choice Program, which will expire later in 2017. This $10 billion program implemented a system where veterans could seek care outside of the VA if they waited too long for an appointment or lived 40 miles away from the nearest VA facility.
The American Legion also opposes the Veterans Choice Program and wants the funds to be rolled back into the VA to help reduce wait times.
GOP Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, advanced a bill in January to remove the expiry date from the Choice Program.
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