tv Newsmakers CSPAN February 14, 2016 10:00am-10:31am EST
concerns that the obama administration is growing more money at all the v.a.. that is not the way to solve it. what is your opinion of what the budget is? >> the increase in the budget is 9.8%, but 12% of that is mandatory because we have made promises to those who serve in the military. that is not appropriations, it is something we have to do. circumstances, being down to 5% is ok. i am down with being with where they recommended. >> have you seen the reforms they have had in their? are they headed in the right direction? we have seen dramatic increases over the last few years or so. is it sustainable to have money to this budget? >> you have to fulfill the promise do not made to those who serve the country.
we have enough growth in the number of fisheries, and a rate of decline. growth because of the throughput, but you're going to spend money more wisely. with someg to do away surplus properties in the next year which will bring money into the treasury. their true to do some efficiency things to make the v.a. a streamlined as it can be. but not by sacrificing money for the benefits of our veterans. i wanted to ask, when it comes to the budget, the v.a. has repeatedly asked for flexibility and how they move money around. as we saw last year, because of that inflexibility, there was almost a shutdown of the va hospital services in the fall. mcdonaldand secretary found any common ground, is there anything that congress to free up fundso
for the v.a. to manage within the year? >> that is a terrific question. togives me a chance congratulate secretary mcdonald. initially our relationship they want to flexibility without accountability, which i was not willing to defend, because the month money that is spent in the v.a. in the first place. but when the hospital was hit with a trillion dollar -- a billion-dollar cost overrun, we had to find the money to finish the hospital. i went to the second car and told him i was willing to help, but he had to find the money with internally generated funds and i would give him the flexibility, if you would give me the accountability, to see to it that money was being sent to meet the shortfall in denver. he did, and hospitals being finished, and without an additional dollar from the tracks -- taxpayer. accountability, and
without accountability we're giving the secretary more flexibility. flex ability with accountability. brought up the issue of accountability, some of you and away from the budget for the moment we have seen last week the three senior safety -- executives who were in line for discipline have that disciplined overturned. accountability has been a big concern. what is the path forward here? congress has passed several initiatives, trying to address this. are we looking at more legislation? are we looking at applying it differently? how do we get to the point where we have what congress once in terms of accountability? >> we are working towards that end right now. your question is timely because that is part of the meeting i had with secretary donald this morning. part of what we are going to be doing in committee when we come back after the break next week, we have to have the ability to hold employees accountable. we have to able to reward employees with a good child.
there have been impediments to that. part of that is the way the system has been put together over town. we want to make sure that they have ability to discipline within the department. we to make sure it is in a timely basis, and people can be held accountable. i am working to make sure that is something that is a lasting peace of our committee. >> do you feel like you are close to finding a fix on the? there has been a lot of attention on this appeals process, on putting different prescriptions on the senior executives. we're still not seeing a lot of firings, we are still seeing plenty of concerns that something is not being held accountable. >> i will have to tell you, we are closer than we have in in the last 18 months. what happened on the pennsylvania cases that were overturned gave us the momentum to really go in and look at
title 38 provisions, and look at some of the changes we can make. all the employees accountable, but be fair in acquittal of the same time -- and equitable at the same time. we are closer to agreement. it is my hope that by the time we adjourn, we will have passed a comprehensive behavioral -- v.a. bill that gives employees the accountability they need. referenced you just a forthcoming piece of legislation. when senator sanders was chairman of the veterans affairs committee, he put together an omnibus veterans affairs bill to expand benefits, among other things. there seems to be talk of that. what should we expect on the horizon in terms of big legislation? beyond accountability. are you are going to address benefits?
is there going to be some fundamental reform legislation? that is my hope and desire there will be a conference in bill that deals with accountability, eels with caregivers, deals with benefits, deals with the appeals process, deals with on four yards, deals with all the things before the committee. consulship that way, and if we cannot, we will do it one by one. >> to issues that have come of that the department has requested from you are the reforming the appeals process, which has been a massive headache for a lot of veterans, and consolidating all of the on-site care programs, the choice programs. the secretary's book your committee couple of weeks ago on this. is this something that could be included in that legislation? business to investors for an election year -- is it too ambitious for an election year? >> it is possible it could be included. is fully developed claim
something the v.a. has tried to do for a couple of years. and you look at the backlog delays in terms of the field, you will find it is a small number of veterans who are causing the backlog, because they continue to add new evidence, because there is no capital on a claim. once it opens, it remains open. another claim just keeps an open for a few. what we need to do is have a reason to justify the claim. once we get them to whether he be ruled on, and adjudicated, we can expedite the approval of all the claims that are coming before the v.a.. that would be good for all veterans. >> this is not a new issue. we have had this for quite some time. that has been a headache for members of congress. if you cannot get that massive year, do youhis
have hoped that there are tweaks and adjustments that can at least alleviate the problem? >> i think so. we're deaf only going to make some accomplishments this year. there's no question about that. hobbled and how big they are industrydepend on the to come together in a bipartisan fashion to talk about tough issues. money together with the to address it. they are all possible. we are trying to bring together the best ideas from republicans and democrats, but to put them together with the secretary, and have a bill that all parties can support for that is what i'm working towards, and i'm not going to give up. you mentioned the choice program.
that was obviously the biggest development legislatively in response to the v.a. scandal a couple years ago. it appears to have a mixed record thus far. the v.a. says it is going to run out of money soon, but it was only supposed to be a three-year program. your counterpart congressman miller has said before that he wants to make the choice program permanent. there has been some talk of combining choice with other non-v.a. care programs. the record think is of the choice program thus far in helping alleviate those wait times? in, doo you see it go you want to extend it, do you want to do something different with it? what do you think your committee should do in the next year or so? >> choice was originally a response to what happened in phoenix, arizona, at other facilities around the country where veterans were left waiting for appointments, getting ill,
and in some cases died in and also situations where veterans did not have any facility close to them they could go to. as we've gotten into choice, would have found out that it was not really -- the veterans like having the idea of a choice, and i think you will some expansion, and it will be made permanent. members at our committee agree with it. i know senator mccain and i were will -- working closely together on it. wheels to make sure all the money is treating the same -- treated the same. ought to always be the same so that people are not picking a program because the reimbursement rate is higher, rather than picking a program because it is most convenient for them and best for the z a. extend choice, the more accessible we can be to our veterans, the less pressure on the v.a. to build bricks and
mortar, and we can help with our veterans. helpe we will be able to our veterans. froms been some criticism appointments of choice that v.a. may have slowed down choice. they had to be rated a couple of who replenished the regular v.a. health care system last fall. do you think this could have been executed better? >> can always do things better. i would never say we did something the first way around perfect. we broke through a glass ceiling that a lot of people do not think we ever could do by bringing about choice. we use that money to make sure our veterans got timely appointments and their needs see met with think you will
the choice program be made permanent, and i think the rough year -- reference you made to the process being too slow, i'm just not sure that slowness was intentional. it was just the layers of bureaucracy that was in between the request and the delivery of appointment. i look forward to the day that they use a health care card that a seamless, that you can use and you do not have to go through third-party contractors. that would be the solution, i hope we get there one day. >> we are at the halfway point. >> if you expand choice, this gives back to my first question. are we headed to a point where we are seeing this ever-growing v.a. budget that is unchecked? we are already looking at a budget that has quadrupled in the last 15 years. it is larger than any individual service budget for next year.
the military service budget. i wonder if you have any concern that this expansion of choice is something that is adding to the deficit? rdc potential savings on the other side? let them make a point as clearly as i can make it great if a man or woman in the united rates of america volunteers to serve in our armed services and serves in the harm's way protect each and everyone of us, they deserve every benefit we have promised to them. one of them is health care. we should not short teaser veterans who was their life -- risk their lives for us. we have more veterans coming in for v.a. eligibility than we have had in the past. even though we are losing world war ii veterans in a rapid rate, the vietnam volatile is still there. we have increased demand, and increased demand will increase the amount of money we have to pay out. but the better the health care, the better the quality, more timely quality, and the maximization of the private sector using choice, will take
pressure off the cost of the veterans administration. i think we are moving in the right direction to have a more accountable process. but to always keep our commitment to our veterans. >> let me use that as a springboard. one thing we have heard a lot from the v.a. administrator is frustration that the scandals from congress, criticism is scaring veterans away from turning to v.a.. they have gone too much bad press command people do not have faith in them anymore. in thehave faith direction of the department, and should veterans have faith? >> i have faith in the department, and the veterans i talked to, i go to the claremont hospital in atlanta, the capital of georgia which is the state i represent. i talked to them on a lump -- monthly basis. , i director of that hospital have a monthly meeting on benefits that our veterans need and how they are being received.
i meet with veterans who have arguments with the v.a.. i meet with veterans who do not like services they receive. i've met veterans will have problems. but i will say this, the majority of veterans and i talked to love their v.a. care, and like the v.a. care, and want to keep it. they do not want it to be replaced or taken away from them. if they have legitimate complaints, we will fix them. if they are not legitimate, we will point them in a different direction. i think that the veterans like the v.a. and the like having health care. tohink congress is committed having the highest quality possible. >> the two men who won new hampshire, bernie sanders, and donald trump, have been very vocal in their criticism of veterans benefits and the v.a. in particular. i'm wondering what you are hearing about those men and what they're saying on the campaign trail that you disagree with and some things that you can find
common ground with. -- let met sure answer that without getting into a political answer that would take sides. let me just say that senator sanders served on the committee and was chairman before me. he proposed something that were pretty good, but we were not as active a committee as we should have been. the arizona debacle took place during his watch, and we do not respond at that time. choice ended up being a response later on, which he was a part of. the nominee, donald trump, i do not know that he has served in the military or has used v.a. surfaces. i think he is regurgitating what he reads in the press, and i would never criticize the press when i'm doing an interview with them, but a lot of things that are reported are think that happened a long time before secretary mcdonald camelot for i came along, or jeff miller, or richard blumenthal. v.a. is making substantial
changes. we are addressing the concerns that the place in denver, that by centralia, that took place in atlanta that took place in phoenix. one by one we are printing this things. -- correcting these things. we'll see a full response to all the things that have happened. it is an easy thing to find fault with, but when you have 314,000 employees to which is what the v.a. has, and you are 22 .5 million people, there is always a mistake you can find. but there are lots of people a in and dale -- day in and day out that are being helped. cites trump frequently numbers of veterans who died, specifically because of delays in service. what does your committee investigation show? how many deaths have you been able to pin point to service delays? many. death is too i have never looked to find out, one in arizona, that i know about, that is inexcusable.
we need to have the number at zero. >> we are going to have a change of administration, no matter what. if your party's nominee, or the next president were to come to you and ask for a vote of confidence for him, would you recommend him staying on for the next administration? >> everything i have seen with bob mcdonald in the west 16 months, i've been very pleased with. i would certainly hope you would stay for continuity purposes, or the next president would pick him to save. that will be next -- up to the next president of th. but the main thing is continuity. comes to make sure it that i would recommend him. >> can i ask, taking a little bit longer view, i have talked to some members of congress who would like to see the v.a. do a long-term strategic assessment, kind of how the defense department, a four and a real quarterly review.
he thinks fundamentally over time that the v.a. is actually going to get smaller, more specialized. just taking care of its core competencies, as opposed to doing everything in terms of health care. 10, 20,k, when you look 30 years out, what do you think the v.a. should be doing? at is that a conversation you plan on having in your committee and that congress should have? >> i happen to concur with charlie and what he is saying. areme just say this, there 22.5 million veterans being served by the v.a., and those numbers will grow as the year comes forward. trained 72% of all the physicians in our country. a lot of people do not realize
this. theof doctors practicing in u.s. today did a residency at a v.a. hospital. that is something you cannot replace and is important to the overall health care of our country. as time goes by, and as an enriched choice program exists, you will have the v.a. doing more specialized health care that is reflective of the type of injuries you get in wartime. ptsd, the loss of a limb, burns, things of that nature. pressure inut less terms of the cost of the v.a. in expanding services. i think charlie has a good vision, and can idea of where health care will go. we have a mentor veterans. we will do that, we will fulfill it. enhances,e can
improvement, and make a more accessible, we will make it so. >> we have heard a lot of charges of privatization on the campaign trail. can you talk about that, and what is the fine line between pushing too far, looking at outside care programs too much, sending those issues outside the system, and still preserving the department and core competencies? >> privatization is a fear words in terms of people trying to paint a picture that the va hospital's are going to go away or v.a. health care is going to go away. not on my watch. using the choice program is a force multiplier for services to our veterans. not a privatization, but a force multiplier. it is important to understand that it is a partnership. the everybody focusing on
benefits to the veteran and timely services, we will never privatize the demonstration, what we will make sure they have access to services whether they are in the service or not. >> on defense issues, you have been critical of the army drawdown, which is supposed to go down to about 450,000 in the active component. for spending is in your state as well as many other military installations. what do you c is happening that congress can do this year to stop the drawdown in the army? are you in favor of keeping it at the current level? what can congress do with that? drawing down to 460,000 puts us in the position of a one front army. we cannot write on to friends if we needed to -- fight on two
fronts if we needed to. i am a product of the vietnam era, post vietnam, carter administration. army was drawn down by substantial numbers. reagan had to come back in and rebuild it. big trouble, our weapon systems are aging. our air forces aging, our navy is getting smaller. in ae putting ourselves back position, as it is too expensive for the country to have to rebuild everything we are dismantling. i hope we would look to the future and realize that a well prepared america is one that does not have to often because of its power. but a week of america as expenses greater than in the future. >> thank you very much for being our guest. we appreciate it. >> thank you very much. n> senator johnny isakso
has an ambitious agenda. in many committees and is difficult to get things done because of politics. but who is not in favor of helping veterans? do you think these have a better chance? >> there are a few issues that have a better chance of making it through. it is the question of how ambitious it has. some of the things that they v.a. is asking for, revealing the -- reforming the appeals going to bere is some fights over that, and that is going to take more time. i do not know if it will be as convergence of us what we saw two years ago, which was the creation of the trust program -- what we sawve as two years ago, with the creation of the choice program. we will see what it comes down to. >> i would add that cost has
been an issue. it was when they created the choice program, about six months earlier when senator sanders tried his veterans bill. standard it was a highly ambitious bill. at first it was not paid for when he brought it to the floor. i think that can be a stumbling block as well. >> i feel like this is the first budget cycle where we have seen lawmakers talking a little bit more about the price tag on the v.a.. we have had 15 straight years of increases, they were exempt from sequestration. most programs were not that lucky over this stress. that is starting to get some notice. any time we started to get the suggested, those critics are going to get closer scrutiny. >> the other thing i would add is a large portion of that is not under congress's control.
it is mandatory spending, and it's about $100 billion. most of that money is provided for a year in advance. labor unions, and particularly public employees, have always been important for the democrats. i'm wondering with senator sanders, former chairman of this committee, what is the tension between reform and the unions who are big supporters of the democrat? >> and distressed. it is trust of v.a. management. whenever you hear these problems, whatever you hear some scandals pop up, what you hear from veterans outside is that the department is doing us wrong, the department is cropped -- corrupt. what you hear from the inside is that we have for management, we do not have enough training. a lot of the proposals we see in congress is to give the management more power to make decisions. the union say we do not trust you. you have not want us to a good point -- brought us to a good
point. part of his background is a ceo of procter & gamble. brought a different work requirements, different hiring and firing rules. we'll see if there is a middle ground where they can accept some of that. being a partner, not an adversary. passed a bill making it easier for the v.a. to fire its employees. it was a partisan vote, got very little democratic support because of this issue of the public-sector union. ,> one question we do not ask but has gone great attention in the past year or so is military suicide. particularly those who have served in iraq and afghanistan. is there progress being made within the a system about understanding root causes and
prevention programs? >> a good spent a whole half an hour on that. part of the problem is everyone, as you said, they want help on this issue. controversy, and the question is how do we move ahead. right now the committee is focused on the best practices they can follow. , what is working, a better way to get data, etc. to evaluate all of this. both sides are in this research mode. the house passed a piece of legislation looking specifically at female service members, .emale veterans that may get caught up in the things the senator spoke about. >> congressional elections loom. senator kelly ayotte has a tough election campaign.
how will politics affect this work? seen, ink, as he has think it will make having a large piece of legislation that could potentially get people out of money, difficult. you find that with any committee in congress. though there are smaller bill that do not cost a lot of money, it could very easily go through the house, 430-zero. and then go through the zer senate and become law. they do an expiring authority, which every year reduce the v.a.'s ability to do simple things. today it has something to that? -- do they attach something to that? the house is very active in his legislation. it is also worth noting since
it is not a moneymaking committee. the right usually a fair amount of people on both health and tenets died. they will still be there next year and we could see a different task of -- different cast of characters on that committee, especially in the house side where there is more volatility from elections. the democrats that when the senate back, select the change as well -- so that could change as well. >> thank you for being our guest on newsmakers, this week. today we show you last night's cbs debate with the republican presidential candidates. it at 4:00 p.m. eastern on c-span -- it begins at 4:00 p.m. eastern on c-span. >> the best presidents, the greatest presidents have been willing to recognize they were not the smartest person in the room,