- President Obama made clear his position against privatization of the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) in a recent interview with The Gazette.
- Although he said there's still "a lot of work to do" and "it's an all-hands on deck process," Obama was happy with the current VA secretary, Robert McDonald, chosen to replace Eric Shinseki in 2014 after he retired when the VA wait time scandal first made headlines.
- However, McDonald was criticized last month for his comment comparing wait times for access to medical care to long lines at Disneyland, and later publicly apologized.
After the VA wait time scandal broke, emergency funding from the Veterans Choice Act cost the public $16 billion. An independent report last year by Rand and McKinsey found sweeping inadequacies in the VA's management and healthcare delivery practices, revealing that wait times averaged 115 days for primary care appointments.
This was followed by a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) last April, that discovered not all newly enrolled veterans were able to access primary care through the Veteran Health Administration, along with big variations in appointment wait times (22 to 71 days from appointment requests to when they were seen).
Approximately 380,000 new veterans enroll in the VHA's health system every year, according to GAO.
Obama acknowledges there is much left to do to correct issues at the VA and the Veterans Access to Care Act does allow the VA to contract with private providers if there is no clinic within 40 miles of a veteran seeking care or a wait time more than 30 days. Yet, some Democrats remain skeptical the VA can address veterans' healthcare needs.
However, Obama did cite improvements in the agency's processing of disability claims, a drop in the number of homeless veterans by 30% , and first lady Michelle Obama's Joining Forces program to help veterans find jobs.
Other projects, however, will take years like the VA's IT system upgrade but they are starting to work on it now, Obama said. "They may not all be complete by the time we leave, but we will be at a much better place than we were," Obama told The Gazette.