Tester Grills VA Secretary Nominee on Privatization, Veterans Choice Program

Senator to Shulkin: You Need to Do What is Best For Veterans, Even If It Defies the President

(U.S. Senate)-U.S. Senator Jon Tester today grilled Dr. David Shulkin, President Trump’s VA Secretary nominee, over his plan to fulfill the country’s commitment to America’s veterans.

Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, pushed Shulkin to pledge that he will not privatize the VA and divert additional resources away from VA facilities. Tester then sought confirmation from Shulkin that his nomination was put forward without conditions that could limit his ability to accomplish the VA’s mission to provide timely care for veterans.

“You’ll have to deal with a new President who has taken some public positions – on everything from privatization to his personal opinion of the VA workforce – that are in stark contrast to positions you have taken,” Tester said. “Sooner than later, you’ll come to a crossroads, and you’ll have to choose whether to pursue what you think is best for veterans, or what the President tells you is best for veterans.”

Tester also expressed his frustrations to Shulkin over the Veterans Choice Program. Tester told Shulkin he will not support an extension of the Veterans Choice Program unless significant reforms are included to reduce wait times and ensure local health care providers are reimbursed in a more timely fashion.

“I know VA has endorsed an effort to simply extend the life of that program, but I’ll tell you what – if anyone wants to extend the life of this program without also taking steps to make it work better for veterans, you’ll have to go through me,” Tester said. “And I will oppose you every step of the way.”

Tester additionally asked Shulkin a question on behalf of a Montanan who contacted the Senator through his office, Billings resident Debbie Blanchard.

“I want to relay a question from a constituent who recently wrote my office,” Tester asked. “What can you do to ensure that all servicemen and women coming home from overseas duty promptly get the medical attention they need, including mental care?”

Shulkin answered Debbie’s question by committing to expand telehealth programs and recruit more mental health professionals to the Billings VA Clinic.

Tester closed the hearing by continuing his push to exempt the entire VA from President Trump’s hiring freeze executive order. Tester specifically pushed Shulkin to ensure Veterans Benefits Administration claim processers are exempt from the hiring freeze so the disability claims backlog of over 450,000 doesn’t increase.

The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee will hold a vote in the coming days Shulkin’s confirmation. If approved by a majority on the committee, Shulkin will then receive a confirmation vote in front of the entire Senate.

Shulkin has served as the VA Undersecretary of Health since 2015, and prior to that, he spent nearly two decades as a hospital administrator in the private sector.