In his first press conference since his 2016 Election Day Win, President-Elect Donald Trump announced his final cabinet nomination to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in David Shulkin, who became the VA Under Secretary for Health in July 2015.
As the current chief of the veterans health administration, Shulkin oversees the largest integrated healthcare system in the United States with more than 1,700 sites.
He is not a veteran, as VA secretaries have historically been.
A Focus on Veteran Urgent Care Improvements
Previously, Shulkin was the president and chief executive officer of Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City, managed numerous health care systems and founded DoctorQuality, Inc., a healthcare systems rating tool. In medical school, Shulkin trained at VA clinics in Pennsylvania and Connecticut.
He told lawmakers when President Barrack Obama nominated him in 2015 that his time at the VA clinics personalized scandals of the department: “It was difficult for me to have watched from the sidelines last year as the failings of the system came to light,” he said then.
About a month later, he was in the thick of it. U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Ala.) called for a U.S. Senate committee field hearing on Veterans Affairs seeking a solution to help Alaska veterans navigate the Veterans Choice Program.
The program was designed to help veterans who were subject to long wait lists or distant travel for care, but Alaskan veterans couldn’t figure out where to get care when the system changed.
The VA did not grant an exemption, but Shulkin said the agency needed to step up and find a solution for the state.
From his start with the VA he had been accused of asking veterans to wait for care.
But in December 2016, when the VA released internal ratings of its medical centers, Shulkin told USA Today that since he became the VA health chief, the number of veterans waiting longer than a month for urgent care decreased from 57,000 to 600. “If you have an urgent care problem, your wait should be zero,” Shulkin said.
However, USA Today concluded that the VA’s updated data showed improvements in some areas, and declines in others.
Accelerating In-House Innovations
From a progressive perspective, he is an interesting choice, with a competitive style complementary to Trump’s. He quickly created a “Shark Tank” of sorts where VA employees competed to get their ideas for improving the VA implemented.
According to the VA’s blog, employees throughout the country, from physicians to researchers and chaplains, submitted more than 250 innovations and improvements in November 2015.
One year later, the VA announced an expansion of its Innovators Network Program with 14 new medical center innovation sites, and one National Cemetery innovation site. The VA’s accelerator program now has investments in 38 projects. The VA boasted that the program’s Technology-Based Eye Care Screening and Care in the Community Tool would together save more than $20 million over five years as they improve veterans access to services and care. The 22 sites in the Innovators Network test new ideas on a small scale before they are deployed across the VA system.
Shulkin’s cabinet nomination must be approved by the Senate.