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Changing the VA

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

With new leadership in Washington, the Department of Veterans Affairs should be making the necessary changes to give our veterans the quality care they deserve, but there is one big problem with making those changes, or at least the ones that really matter.

President-elect Donald Trump recently tapped David Shulkin, a physician who is currently serving in the Obama administration as VA under secretary, to serve as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. And Shulkin may struggle with the fix that is truly needed.

This isn’t because of the lack of public outcry, or a lack of desire to change the pathetic state of the VA hospital system. However, no one has yet talked about what needs to be done to make the kind of changes that will fix this system. And that won’t happen until those responsible for the problems are fired immediately. Is Shulkin a bureaucrat, or will he be up to the task?

Repairing the Bureaucracy

Hundreds of people responsible for the poor treatment of patients are still working at the VA, including incompetent management. That is the real scandal. Not until members of senior management are fired and senior middle management have the authority to fire others, will this system be repaired. Shulkin will need to fight Congress for that authority, and the question is, will he do what it takes to solve these immense problems? No other starting point will effect real changes.

The only possible way to build a strong veterans hospital system is accountability. And the only accountability that anyone will understand is that if they don’t do the job they were hired to do—with efficiency and at the highest standards possible—they will soon lose that job.

The idea that it takes an act of Congress to fire anyone, or that the federal government can reform itself, is as ridiculous as anyone believing this broken system can be fixed without changing the people responsible for creating the mess.

This is not a problem that has been created only by incompetent people. It has been created by an incompetent management system that the government has imposed on those in charge. If the people in charge of the system are not capable of making the proper changes, then they should be the first to go. My concern is that a leader who was already embroiled in that very flawed system will continue to lead in this next administration.

Skilled Executive Needed

The VA system needs a competent business executive who understands what it takes to turn around the system—the kind of leader who understands that its people are its greatest asset and the people working in the system are the ones who ultimately will be responsible for the success in caring for our veterans.

We also need someone who understands that when the system and those in charge of it are failing veterans, then the system must be changed. And our next president must understand that fact and make it possible for that kind of change to happen quickly.

Excellent care will only come with competency, conscientiousness and compassion, which will only occur with common-sense change that is free of politics. Unfortunately, such qualities are not standard government operating procedure.

So far, I have not questioned the judgment of President-elect Trump on any of his picks.

As a veteran, I pray I am wrong about this one.

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