Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald said veterans, American medicine and the public need the Veterans Affairs healthcare system to remain government-run, adding that veterans “love the care” they are getting.
“The VA would be a Fortune 10 company. We have a budget of about $170 billion. We have 340,000 employees. The Procter and Gamble company, when I was the CEO, had 120,000 employees and sales of about $85 billion,” he said at an event held by Politico.
“Veterans cannot do without the VA. American medicine cannot do without the VA and I would argue the American public cannot do without the VA,” he added.
McDonald said many members of Congress have asked him why he does not “blow up the VA and give out vouchers.” He argued that the VA is essential for several reasons, including $1.8 billion of research.
“Who did the first liver transplant? The VA. Who invented the first implantable pacemaker? VA. Who invented the nicotine patch? VA. Who invented the shingles vaccine? VA. Who knows more about post-traumatic stress? VA,” he said. “I could go on. I won’t.”
McDonald also pointed out that the VA trains more than 70 percent of the doctors in the United States.
“Who’s going to train them? We provide the internships. We’re the largest supplier of nurses in the country,” McDonald said.
“Our veterans love the care they get at the VA and we are making it more accessible to them,” he added.
Following the VA scandal in 2014, McDonald said more than 1,400 people have been terminated since he became secretary.
“There’s disciplinary action the FBI takes. There’s well over 100 people being investigated right now for scheduling issues,” he said.
The FBI investigation began last year.
McDonald said accountability is about “much more” than just firing people.
“Accountability is also the fact that when I came in, I found the doctors’ salaries were 20 percent below the market so we raised the salary bands,” he said.
McDonald noted that in 2014, the aging of the veteran population put tremendous stress on the system. He argued that the VA must build the capability to treat the veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq for the next 20-30 years.
“If we don’t build that capability today, we won’t have it,” he said.
He was asked to name to the most interesting fact about the VA.
“We’re still serving about 100 descendants of the Spanish-American War,” McDonald said.
“It doesn’t go away. The war doesn’t end. VA doesn’t become unessential.”