IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 07/06/2018
Contact: Jamie Edgar
The Center for American Homeless Veterans (CAHV) is deeply concerned about the questions and answers offered during the Senate Confirmation Hearings for Mr. Robert Wilkie’s nomination to become Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Following the hearing, CAHV was disappointed that many of the biggest issues impacting America’s 21,800,000 veterans were not given their due diligence. Among those policy choices are:
At 55, Wilkie is an Air Force Reserve Officer who serves as the Department of Defense undersecretary for personnel and readiness and was VA’s Acting Secretary for two months after Trump fired former Secretary, Dr. David Shulkin.
Most Senators declined to ask questions regarding Wilkie's past, that have made news, including charges he defended racially charged and sexist policies while working as a Senate staffer.
A recent poll of over 1200 veterans taken before the June 27 hearing offered some interesting numbers: Responding to the question, “Do you support the nomination of Robert Wilkie to be the next VA Secretary,” It found that 42% were undecided about him for the critical leadership position. 41% of veterans support Mr. Wilkie, 14% did not.
CAHV remains in the undecided column. Our hesitancy stems from serious questions concerning the privatizing of VA services. One issue is over the recently passed VA Mission Act, which overhauls how the department provides community care. Critics of the sweeping bill have said the administration is too eager to send federal money to doctors outside of the VA and fear a brain drain of top VA talent, at a time when it is critically understaffed.
Wilkie said that he was against "privatization" of VA health care and would work to break the bureaucratic logjams on wait times and benefits appeals. VA’s recent leadership void was a popular topic among multiple senators who questioned how much autonomy Wilkie would have from the White House as he’ll work to bring the service provided to veterans up to standards. That brings up the question, “Who’s your Boss?”
Ranking Member Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) asked Wilkie if he would be “empowered to do what is best for our veterans even if that is in disagreement with the President.” Wilkie said he has been fortunate enough to work for some of the “most high-powered people in this town…they pay me for my opinions and I give those to them or I would not be working.” The Center for American Homeless Veterans sees this response as unrealistic under the current Administration. Far too many high ranking officials, including Department Secretaries, have been fired for not toeing the “privatization” line promoted by the White House.
Senators from across the political spectrum praised Wilkie and many said they expect to see him confirmed. Tester lauded his grace at the hearing, saying Wilkie “ain’t a rookie.”
If confirmed, Wilkie said his goal would be to make the VA more "agile and adaptive" to meet the needs of a changing veterans population.
"It is clear that the veteran’s population is changing faster than we realize," he said. "For the first time in 40 years, half of our veterans are under the age of 65. Of America's 20 million veterans, 10 percent are now women. The new generation is computer savvy and demands 21st Century service -- service that is quick, diverse and close to home."
CAHV is continuing to advocate for a more responsive VA. We also remain deeply concerned that despite a quarter century of support for our veterans and advocacy for professional leadership, management and administration at the Department, Secretaries come and go; VA still bobs like a rubber ducky from confusing and conflicting policies; and apparently the last thing on our political leaderships minds are our veterans.
The Center for American Homeless Veterans is a national nonprofit organization that fulfills its mission by advocating to the public and Congress about the needs and solutions for American Veterans, with an emphasis on those left behind, such as homeless and disabled veterans. By molding public opinion CAHV helps shape public policy. The forerunner of the organization was established in 1993. During its past history, it helped sponsor 196 forums and receptions around the country, many of which highlighted transitional facilities. Over 100 Members of Congress were hosted and spoke at those events.