By: Thomas (Tom) Waters, Lt. Colonel, USAF (Ret), Ed.D. / email@example.com
As I contemplated on how to begin this article, I waited until I felt I could delay it no longer. I wanted to be able to tell you MY THOUGHTS on the direction I felt the VA Secretary, Dr. Shulkin, would go. The problem is, “I don’t know.”
My primary problem is that I don’t know if Dr. Shulkin will remain in that position or who is making the decisions for the VA at the time you read this article. I’ve never given the impression that I have a Crystal Ball or could predict the future but I am familiar with politics and our political climate. However, let me explain what I DO know.
I know that Dr. Shulkin made the statement that the VA “would never be privatized under his watch” or as long as he is Secretary. By making that statement, he went contrary to his boss, the President. The president has stated, alluded to, and insinuated that he believes that the VA Healthcare system should be privatized. We have learned that those members of the President’s Cabinet who speak contrary to the wishes (or campaign promises) of the President find themselves “on the outside looking in.” And, there are quite a few on the outside.
As a former commander of a unit of 800+ personnel, I had officers, NCO’s, and Airmen who followed my orders and instructions as I gave them. My orders were clear, concise, and followed Air Force regulations. When I found that a member of my unit could not (or would not) move in the direction I was leading, they were either removed from my squadron or removed from the Air Force. Sometimes my orders were a direct result of the Colonels or Generals in my chain of command above me. In the military we follow orders when we understand the orders even when we don’t fully agree with them.
So, you see that I understand the President and truly believe that he deserves to have a Cabinet that works WITH him, not against him. However, he must give clear instructions. In listening to the President on CNN, Fox News, PBS, or MSNBC, his instructions are unclear and flexible allowing the listener to focus on several directions hoping to guess where the President wants them to go. The President brought on some good people but, without providing firm guidance and often using tweets to undermine them publicly when he didn’t think they “had his back,” he lost confidence in them and they lost confidence in him.
While the message that Dr. Shulkin stated was great for veterans, it may NOT have been so great for him keeping his job. If you recall, I was not 100% for his appointment but only because he is NOT a veteran. He is the first non-veteran to hold the position of VA Secretary and, because of the ‘troublesome’ results so far, I hope he is the last non-veteran. However, as long as he is in the position of VA Secretary he has my full support.
With that said, I remain cautiously optimistic that Secretary Shulkin will continue to fully support all efforts to improve the VA Healthcare System. Unfortunately, he and his boss have different views on how to best accomplish this where the President touted privatization while Secretary Shulkin stated that “the VA will not be privatized under his watch.”
So, I won’t criticize him in this article. Also, I won’t praise him since his suggestions and recommendations may not mean anything if his boss fires him before implementation.
While you’re keeping an eye on the Privatization issue, you also need to keep an eye on the VETERANS CHOICE Program. I said it before and I’ll say it again, “we NEED a limited VETERANS CHOICE Program but NOT at the expense of other VA programs. My opposition is only where it takes funding and other assets away from the VA’s ability to provide decent veteran Healthcare.”
Unfortunately, there remain several Congressional proposals for legislative changes to either expand or end the Veterans Choice Program so the struggle to retain and improve the Veteran Healthcare System is still on the horizon.
If we knew that Dr. Shulkin’s tenure was secure we could concentrate on the “fine tuning” needed to improve Veterans’ Healthcare, but until we know that Dr. Shulkin will remain as head of the VA or know for sure who the VA Secretary will be, we must remain vigilant and “keep their feet to the fire.”
So, whoever is in the VA seat, let’s hope the VA Secretary, the President, and the Congress will keep their promise and find a way to provide the premiere Veteran Healthcare System we have earned.
I will continue to follow what they say and what they do. And, all along this road to success or failure, I will keep you informed.
If you missed any of my earlier articles you can go to the Veterans Reporter News webpage at <https://www.veteransreporternews.com/> to review any Back Issues.
I hear from MANY readers about my articles (most are positive) and I thank you for your positive or challenging “constructive” comments. Feel free to contact me if you believe any of the information provided is inaccurate or if you have additional information that I can share with our readers.