Since Michael Missal took over as inspector general at the Veterans Affairs Department about a year ago, his office has turned up some improvements, some deteriorations and the odd surprise.
The Veterans Affairs Department is preparing a “State of VA” report on the challenges facing the agency, Secretary David Shulkin told reporters Wednesday. The report comes as VA quickly begins to plot some of its efforts to comply with the President’s government reorganization efforts during the fiscal 2018 budget cycle. VA is one of few civilian agencies that may see a major funding boost next year, according to the President’s budget proposal.
The Veterans Affairs Department may get a big budget boost in fiscal 2018 under the president’s proposal. Most of the additional funding will go toward health care, both in and outside the department. But the budget proposal does suggest cuts, and lawmakers said they’re concerned by possible spending reductions to VA information technology and medical research.
Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin delivered his diagnosis of the department in a “State of the VA” briefing before reporters Wednesday morning. He outlined 13 areas where the department needs to improve and the legislative and administrative fixes it needs in order to see progress.
Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin offered the first glimpse of his plan to redesign the current Veterans Choice Program. He’s calling it the Veterans’ Coordinated Access Rewarding Experience (CARE) Program, and under the new initiative, veterans would no longer access community providers based on a set of arbitrary, administrative rules.
The Veterans Affairs Department once again needs congressional authority to transfer funds from one account to another to keep the Veterans Choice Program running for the rest of fiscal 2017. VA Secretary David Shulkin says the issue emphasizes the need to redesign the program, yet Congress has its concerns about the viability of Choice in the near and long term future.
A small group of senators says the Veterans Health Administration should have its own chief information officer, who would report to the department’s undersecretary for health and would oversee all management and procurement decisions related to the health administration’s IT systems. It’s one of a few specific recommendations from the VA Commission on Care that are beginning to appear in new pieces of legislation.
The House will vote this week on a bill that would replenish the Veterans Choice Fund with an additional $2 billion. But to offset the costs, VA would continue to collect housing loan fees and would trim pensions for some veterans living in nursing facilities that are covered under Medicaid.
The House passed a last-minute bill Friday morning that will replenish the Veterans Choice Program with $2.1 billion in additional funds for the next six months. The additional Choice funds are crucial, as they buy lawmakers and the Veterans Affairs Department more time to redesign the program. But the legislation is also packed with new hiring flexibilities.
Details on funding for the new program are still largely unclear. VA, however, believes administrative changes to the current Veterans Choice Program will save billions of dollars over 10 years.