An idea that started in Alaska to provide better care by the Veterans Administration for vets known as the Veterans Access, Choice & Accountability Act seems to have backfired for Alaskan vets according to freshman U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R) Alaska. “Ultimately this was about bringing Washington D.C. to Alaska,” Sullivan told the Dispatch in an interview before the Kenai hearing. “To have some of the senior VA officials here in Alaska. The Secretary of the VA was here two weeks ago and tonight we have the number 3 official at the VA Dr. David Shulkin here to hear about a huge problem that has manifested itself in the state this summer with the implementation of what’s called the Choice Act, which has been nothing less than a fiasco in Alaska. Dr. Shulkin is new and went through his confirmation hearing in the Veterans Affairs Committee in the Senate, a committee where I sit and when he came up for a vote I put a hold on his confirmation until he gave me a commitment that he would come to Alaska within his first six weeks after being confirmed with a plan to fix the problem with the implementation of the Choice Act. We wanted to have some listening sessions so he could hear first-hand from the men and women who have served our country what their experiences have been and what their challenges have been as well as their ideas for fixing the problem. This morning we were in Fairbanks, we’re here in Kenai with a teleconference line to Dillingham and tomorrow we’ll have an official U.S. Senate VA Committee hearing in Eagle River which will become part of the official record. It’s a big deal to have an official hearing hear rather than in D.C. where Alaskans have to travel there to be heard,” said Sullivan.
Sullivan said the act was actually limiting flexibility that veterans need to receive health care and he was backed up by a majority of the testimony of veterans who mocked it call it the “No Choice” program. “The irony is the Choice Act took a lot of ideas from Alaska and put it into law then when they implemented it they did a one size fits all approach regarding funding and a lot of our innovations and flexibility was lost in the implementation of the Choice Act, which has been a great frustration and this blitz of sessions is to be sure the VA officials at the highest level not only understand the problem but see firsthand the frustration of these patriots. It’s one thing for a senior official in Washington to get a briefing and read a paper, it’s another thing to have them hear from a purple heart recipient who is not getting the services for the sacred trust that the federal government owes them,” said Sullivan.
As one by one those vets came to testify and tell of their challenges at the hearing Dr. Shulkin not only listened, but took immediate action assigning a staff person to work with the individual right there as the hearing continued for more than two hours. “I’m new, I may not have caused the problems,” said Shulkin, “But I own them now. The solution to the Choice program will be found through collaboration between the VA, Congress and the programs third party administrators.” A plan for addressing the issues in Alaska will be presented to Congress by Nov. 1st according to Shulkin.