Does Pick Of Shulkin As VA Head Indicate Trump's Views Are Evolving?

Jan 18, 2017
Originally published on January 18, 2017 8:33 am
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Some other news - veterans groups say they're pleased and also bemused by President-elect Trump's choice to run the Department of Veterans Affairs. NPR's Quil Lawrence reports on the response to David Shulkin.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: Trump saved his pick to lead Veterans Affairs until almost all his other nominations were made, and some of his other Cabinet choices seemed to oppose the very institutions they're supposed to lead. There rumors for Veterans Affairs ranged from a Fox News contributor to Sarah Palin.

GARRY AUGUSTINE: There's no doubt that we had some concerns with some of the names that were being considered.

LAWRENCE: Garry Augustine is with Disabled American Veterans, one of the largest veteran service groups. He's pleased with the nominee, David Shulkin, a renowned physician and hospital administrator who has been running VA health care for the past two years. Augustine hopes this pick means Donald Trump's views on VA are evolving.

AUGUSTINE: We're all hoping that as President-elect Trump becomes more aware of what's going on with the VA that his views will change. As he becomes more aware of what's happening over there, he will start to support the integrated health care idea that we all support.

LAWRENCE: The integrated idea is basically using private care in the community to shore up, but not replace, the VA system. That's how VA's been trying to fix a scandal with access to care that blew up in 2014. Dr. Shulkin was part of the team brought in to fix it in 2015.

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DAVID SHULKIN: The VA approach is to find the very best care that serves the veterans. And I think that we've shown that in response to our access crisis that we have encouraged the use of community care to address our access issues.

LAWRENCE: That was Shulkin at a House hearing in 2015. He went on to say the VA has specialized care that veterans can't get elsewhere, and defended the quality of VA care.

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SHULKIN: VA overall has lower mortality rates than the private sector hospitals do. VA overall has better patient safety rates than overall sectors do.

LAWRENCE: That doesn't sound much like President-elect Trump, who had been promoting a more drastic increase in private care. So while supporters of the VA are hoping Trump has come around to the way his nominee thinks, critics are expecting the nominee to change for the new administration. Dan Caldwell is with the conservative group Concerned Veterans for America.

DAN CALDWELL: We think it's absolutely critical that at his confirmation hearing that Dr. Shulkin states whether or not he supports the president-elect's VA reform agenda.

LAWRENCE: Caldwell is withholding judgment, but says Shulkin has been part of the leadership that failed to fix VA health care in the past two years. Shulkin has already picked up bipartisan endorsements in the Senate, and if confirmed he'll have a head start. As the only Trump nominee held over from the Obama administration, he's already at work at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Quil Lawrence, NPR News.

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