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VA Secretary David Shulkin sees positives of troubled system in faces of many staffers

(AP Photo)
LISTEN: David Shulkin, Department of Veteran's Affairs Secretary

PHOENIX — Health care for military veterans in the United States for the past few years has been marked by scandalous headlines of deaths linked to negligence, along with revelations of fraud and cover-ups.

But for all the negative news, there are good people who work in America’s VA health system, Secretary of Veteran Affairs David Shulkin said.

“When you get to see what our men and women who are serving veterans are doing every day, you are extremely proud of them, not only as a fellow colleague but as Americans,” Shulkin said Friday on KTAR 92.3 FM’s Arizona’s Morning News.

“These are people that are dedicated and passionate about serving veterans. (They are) some of the very, very best health care professionals I’ve ever met in my career.”

Shulkin was named Under Secretary of Veterans Affairs for Health in 2015 by President Barack Obama. He was then nominated to lead the department in January 2017 by President Donald Trump.

He became the first civilian to head the agency, the second-biggest on the federal level.

The red tape of bureaucracy hasn’t disheartened him. Recently, a federal court overturned the firing of Sharon Helman, director of the Phoenix VA that was the focal point of the national crisis.

“It, frankly, has been too difficult to remove people that should be removed from their jobs so we need a change in the law,” Shulkin said, pointing to the VA Accountability Bill that would cut down the lengthy firing process.

But, Shulkin added, the bill “still allows our employees due process. We think that’s very important employees have due process.”

He appreciates the efforts of whistleblowers, whose words and actions have resulted in retribution at work, according to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel.

“Many of the problems that have been identified in the VA have come from our own employees. We want them to raise (issues) so we can fix them,” Shulkin said.

“We don’t want them to feel they’ll be retaliated against. We do have strong whistleblower protections that we take very seriously.”

Shulkin takes his job very seriously, as well.

He still practices medicine in the VA system.

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