The Latest: Shulkin: VA employees 'the best in health care'

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Posted: Feb 01, 2017 5:21 PM
The Latest: Shulkin: VA employees 'the best in health care'

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on the Senate confirmation hearing for David Shulkin, the nominee to head the Department of Veterans Affairs (all times EST):

5:15 p.m.

President Donald Trump's pick to lead Veterans Affairs is reiterating his support for VA's workforce, calling them the "best in health care."

David Shulkin says at his confirmation hearing that VA employees often get a bad rap and the vast majority seek to do the right thing.

He was responding to a question by Sen. Jon Tester, the top Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, who asked his opinion on Trump's past description of the VA as "the most corrupt."

Shulkin says he did not discuss with Trump the Republican's past comments on the campaign trail, but both agreed that much work needs to be done.

But Shulkin says anyone who "beats up" the VA is counterproductive and "destructive" and "it's got to stop."

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4:30 p.m.

President Donald Trump's choice to head the Veterans Affairs Department says it's taking far too long for the department to process disability claims.

David Shulkin is citing the appeals process in particular, calling the system "broken." He notes that it takes typically takes veterans three to six years for a resolution on an appeal. He says he supports a plan developed under the Obama administration to streamline the process and is urging Congress to pass legislation.

Shulkin says he plans to study the issue of disability claims more carefully if he is confirmed. The physician is the VA's top health official and did not previously have responsibility for overseeing claims, which critics say are bogged with too much red tape.

About 4.3 million veterans get disability compensation.

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4 p.m.

Veterans Affairs pick David Shulkin is pledging to use his best judgment to put veterans first — even if it means disagreeing with President Donald Trump.

At his confirmation hearing Wednesday, the 57-year-old doctor says no preconditions were set when Trump offered him the position of VA secretary. Shulkin says he made clear to the president that he would be a "strong advocate for VA" when discussing privatization.

Shulkin also says the White House was responsive when the VA asked for exemptions to the federal hiring freeze.

He says out of 45,000 VA vacancies, about 37,000 were exempted.

Three major veterans organizations this week called on Trump to exempt the entire VA from the 90-day freeze.

Shulkin says if confirmed he will immediately review other VA positions that require an exemption.

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3:25 p.m.

President Donald Trump's choice to lead the troubled Veterans Affairs Department says he supports having some private sector help to improve medical care for millions of veterans. But David Shulkin cautions it could take years to fix problems such as long wait times.

Shulkin is testifying before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

But Shulkin says he opposes full privatization. He urges a more integrated VA network in which veterans could seek outside care only in coordination with the VA.

Currently about 30 percent of veterans receive care outside the VA under a 2-year-old Choice Program passed by Congress. Shulkin says he wants to build off that program, noting that a large bulk of veterans receive a combination of VA and private care.

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3 a.m.

President Donald Trump's pick to lead the Veterans Affairs Department says wide-scale firings or dismantling the beleaguered agency isn't the way to meet the health care needs of millions of veterans.

Trump tapped David Shulkin, the VA's current top health official, to be VA secretary after a presidential campaign in which the Republican described the agency as "probably the most incompetently run."

As Shulkin prepares to face a Senate panel Wednesday, the 57-year-old physician is pledging more modest changes.

In prepared testimony, Shulkin says there will be better access and expanded care options. But he adds: "The Department of Veterans Affairs will not be privatized under my watch."

Shulkin is in line to be the lone ex-Obama administration official serving in Trump's Cabinet.