WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs promises a better system for veterans as it prepares for 2017 by improving its suicide hotline, treating more veterans who have hepatitis C and simplifying the appeals process.
Congress has given the VA all the money it has requested, and Kirk said that still does not fix all the problems the VA faces.
“We need to talk about the VA’s culture of corruption with results and talk about performance,” he said. “We need to talk about accountability and putting veterans first not bureaucrats.”
The budget will increase by 4.9 percent from this year, equaling $78 billion to the VA for 2017.
Danny Pummill, undersecretary for Veterans Benefits Administration, said the appeals process for veterans seeking benefits is his number one concern. He said the process needs to be simplified, timely and of better quality.
“The best example is a veteran who’s been appealing for 25 years and has added 27 different variances to his claim as he goes through,” he said. “That ties up the whole system. It’s just a waste of everybody’s time.”
Asked about veteran fraud in the appeals process, he said it is not common from what he has experienced.
“The vast majority of veterans are honest and forthright, they’re just frustrated by how long things take,” he said.
The VA was able to treat 35,000 veterans in 2015, Shulkin said. However, the price for drug that cures hepatitis C has dropped, and the VA could potentially treat 70,000 veterans this year.
Shulkin said that means if the VA has 120,000 veterans with hepatitis C, then in two years, all veterans with hepatitis C could be cured.
Shulkin said tele-medicine or medical care by phone, is something the new budget will contribute to provide care to veterans wherever they are.
“We need to be using tele-health as a way to be keeping veterans at home and out of institutions and having to have them travel several hundred miles to reach facilities,” he said.
Shulkin reassured the committee that the VA is requiring mandatory training for its suicide hotline staff to make sure every call is handled properly and no veteran is sent to voicemail.
The 2017 VA budget is expected to direct 56.8 percent to mandatory benefits programs and 38 percent to medical programs.
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