VA Secretary Shulkin Proposes “Choice 2.0”
In February, Dr. David Shulkin, the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs, spoke publicly for the first time on his plans to reduce red tape and make the VA more responsive to veterans’ needs. As reported in Stars and Stripes, Dr. Shulkin told an audience at the annual Disabled American Veterans conference in Arlington, Virginia, that his top 10 priorities include a redesign for the Veterans Choice program, which he called “Choice 2.0.” Dr. Shulkin would like to keep in place basic principles of the original plan, which allowed veterans to receive treatment outside the VA system if they had to wait more than 30 days for an appointment or travel more than 40 miles to a VA facility. Dr. Shulkin’s plan, however, calls for removing the time and distance restrictions.
But before Dr. Shulkin can hope to implement Choice 2.0, Congress must act to renew the current plan, which was passed as a temporary measure in 2014, with $10 billion in funding. A sunset provision brings an ending to the program on August 7, 2017.
Dr. Shulkin’s other priorities include:
- Employee accountability — Here, too, Dr. Shulkin needs greater authority from Congress to remove bad employees from the system.
- Suicide prevention — Dr. Shulkin pledged to improve mental health services at the VA to address the “national tragedy” of veterans committing suicide. A scandalous rate of 20 a day was reported in 2014.
- Improving VA infrastructure — Many VA facilities are in great need of repair, and equipment is woefully deficient compared to that in use in the private healthcare system.
- Enhancing information technology — Better recordkeeping can improve the delivery of services, and quicker decisions can be made on claims for benefits.
Dr. Shulkin has identified worthy goals and seems earnest in his desire to improve the VA for the sake of those it serves. But real support, and not just lip service, from the president and Congress will ultimately determine whether he can make a difference.
Marcari, Russotto, Spencer & Balaban, P.C. wants all our deserving veterans to be able to access the disability benefits they deserve. If you have had your claim denied, call us from anywhere in the nation at 866-866-VETS or contact our office online.