Blumenthal Presses VA Nominee On Staff Shortages, Site-Specific Audit Report, Long Wait Times At VA Health Facilities

(Washington, DC) – At a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee confirmation hearing, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) today pressed Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) secretary nominee Robert McDonald on issues at VA health facilities that are negatively impacting veterans care. Blumenthal started the exchange by asking McDonald what he would do to attract more trained professionals to VA health facilities.

Blumenthal: Again, thank you for being here, and thanks for answering all of our questions as well as you have, and forthrightly and candidly. In my initial statement, I raised the specter of the VA as comparable to a bankrupt corporation, unlike a lot of bankrupt corporations, or at least bankrupt corporations that fold, the VA has a lot of assets, one of its very distinct assets is its very dedicated people, it’s trained professionals who do such great work day in and day out – regardless of  the headlines in the paper, and the disparagement that they may see in the Congress. And we see it in Connecticut; we have a lot of great docs and medical care in Connecticut – most especially at the West Haven VA facility, which is our main hospital. And my question is, what can we do to attract more of those trained professionals to the VA facility in Connecticut and others around the country, which really provide the day-to-day care for our nation’s heroes?

McDonald: I think that’s a great question, Senator Blumenthal. I’ve been thinking a lot about this, knowing the shortage that we have, and also the morality organization, which may not be very high right now. And it dawns on me that health care professionals, like the rest of us, want to make a difference in the lives of others, and they want to be on the cutting edge of making a difference. So, if we’re going to start, for example, correlating Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome with events that occurred during the military experience – that’s cutting edge stuff, that’s new stuff, that’s stuff that nobody’s done before. The VA has had three Nobel Prize winners, you know, that’s the kind of thing that, that I would think, health care officials want to be a part of. So it would be my intention that we really tout that innovative capability that VA has had for years, but really bring it out and use that to recruit the very best people who want to make a big difference in others’ lives.

Later, Blumenthal asked McDonald if he’d commit to responding a letter he led with the Connecticut delegation requesting a site-specific audit report about the VA health facility in West Haven, as well as another letter he led about the increase in wait times at VA health facilities in Connecticut and across the country.

Blumenthal: In the West Haven facility, as I believe I told you when we met, I asked for site-specific information relating to the audit that was done. In fact, [I] led a letter from our delegation asking General Shinseki  for that site-specific audit data relating to all the locations in Connecticut. And I’m referring to the audit that was done during the spring, not the wait time data.  I’d like a commitment to you that I will receive a response to that letter.

McDonald: We’ll respond to that letter, Senator Blumenthal.

Blumenthal: And I’d like your commitment also that you will respond to a letter that I recently – more recently wrote to the Deputy or Acting Secretary of the VA asking for an explanation for the apparent tripling in wait times in Connecticut and, in fact, elsewhere around the country – the increase in wait times and those wait times delayed longer than 30 days that seem to have tripled in Connecticut, quadrupled elsewhere. Will you commit to me that you’ll provide a response to that letter?

McDonald: If confirmed, I’ll provide a response. But knowing Sloan Gibson the way I do, you will get a response.

Blumenthal: And I’m hoping that response will be imminent and not sometime in the indefinite future.

McDonald: That’s my hope as well.

A full transcript is available upon request. Video of Blumenthal’s introductory remarks and his exchange with McDonald is here.