Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy On the Nomination of David Shulkin to Secretary of Veterans Affairs

As the Senate has spent the last few weeks considering controversial nominee after controversial nominee, it is a refreshing break to consider Dr. David Shulkin to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Dr. Shulkin is a man defined by his professionalism, competence and dedication to the mission of the agency he is tapped to lead.

The son of an Army psychologist and an experienced hospital system administrator, Dr. Shulkin was selected by President Obama to restore trust and confidence at the Veterans Health Administration after years of struggles punctuated by the horrible scandal of wait times in Phoenix.  Under his leadership, the VA has made great progress.  Amid a sea of questionable Cabinet nominations, Dr. Shulkin is one about which I have no question.

Of course, Dr. Shulkin will face immense challenges.  The VA needs significant overhaul, not just in its practices and policies, but in its facilities and technology.  In eliminating the backlog for access to health care, and in the midst of tackling the backlog in claims, facilities have been short-changed with respect to needed improvements and upgrades, while experiencing increased usage.  New technologies provide new opportunities for providing care, but they also require new investments.

Areas that are finally receiving the attention required include mental health, post-traumatic stress and other lingering invisible wounds of war.  It has been one of my priorities to ensure that the best science and practices with respect to mental health and post-traumatic stress can be spread to the communities where veterans live and work, like the rural communities of Vermont.  Only then will we see progress in improving the lives of veterans in those areas.

Dr. Shulkin must also rebuild the confidence of a VA workforce that has been unfairly targeted and vilified by some for the actions of a few.  The federal employees who work at the VA are among the most dedicated, anywhere.  Their devotion to improving care for veterans is inspiring, but their jobs have been made more difficult by both the disappointing actions of some individuals, and the frustrating policies and organizational structures that sometimes get in the way of them serving veterans.

I believe that Dr. Shulkin is up to this challenge.  It is evident from his testimony before the Veterans Affairs Committee and through his public statements that he believes in the VA and in the importance of its mission.  It is evident that he understands the value of looking to the community for health care answers when that makes sense, and that he also understands that the nation should never ignore its solemn responsibility to care for veterans through all possible avenues.  I am also reassured by his pledge not to dismantle the VA or turn its delivery of care into a voucher system. And it is evident that he intends to speak his mind about what makes the most sense for leading a massive health care system focused on providing quality care to each individual veteran.

I will support Dr. Shulkin’s nomination, and I look forward to working with him.

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