The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs continues passing bills to create more efficient programs to serve the needs of our veterans. Since last year, 16 of those bills have been signed into law including measures improving access to healthcare, strengthening benefits and holding Department of Veterans Affairs employees accountable. It’s essential that we have the leadership at the VA to implement these reforms and ensure our veterans get the care they earned.
In June, President Donald Trump signed into law landmark legislation that reforms VA’s healthcare delivery system – helping provide veterans with more choices and fewer barriers to care. That same month, the House and Senate both passed legislation to provide strong funding for the VA. Congress has given the VA the tools to provide our veterans with quality care. Now the department needs the leadership to implement and carry out these changes.
Earlier this year, President Trump nominated Robert Wilkie to serve as Secretary of the VA to execute this task. Having served our nation in uniform, as well as experiencing military life as the son of a wounded combat soldier, his extensive career in a wide range of defense and veterans’ issues make him uniquely qualified to lead the department. He clearly understands the complexities associated with serving our nation and the importance of taking care of our veterans.
Wilkie served as Acting Secretary of the VA, and as such, he is well aware of the challenges facing the department. Accepting responsibility to improve the culture at the agency, implement the reforms passed by Congress, improve access to care through the use of the Electronic Health Records Program and reduce the disability claims backlog is a huge undertaking, but one that he committed to me that he wholeheartedly accepts. The Senate is ready and willing to help him and the VA succeed in its mission.
On two occasions during Wilkie’s confirmation process, I expressed the need for him to commit to closely monitor the review process underway at the Fayetteville VA Medical Center. So far, the process has been efficient and effective, but we shouldn’t put our veterans in a position that requires a review of their cases. I urged Wilkie, should he be confirmed to lead the VA, to implement policies to prevent such tragedies from happening at VA facilities in the future.
Senate-passed legislation that included funding for veterans’ benefit programs also contained a provision I introduced that requires the VA to submit a departmental response plan to Congress that can be applied in Fayetteville—and all future cases of disclosures—and provide recommendations about changes necessary to prevent such incidents. We will work to include this measure in the final version of the bill.
I appreciate Robert Wilkie’s willingness to serve as Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs and look forward to working with him to ensure successful implementation of programs to improve veterans’ services.