tv Newsmakers with Representative Phil Roe CSPAN April 10, 2017 4:20pm-4:53pm EDT
to run the pitch, she said, on my way to a hillary fundraiser, pitch it to me then. that creates an atmosphere that is difficult for conservatives to operate. the arts are a difficult profession. i have lived in the arts for 30 years. it is a tough job. everything is harder. steve: joining us on newsmakers is congressman phil roe. he is the chair of the house affairs committee. thank you for being with us. phil roe: thanks for having me on. steve: and joining us with the questioning is conor o'brien from politico and kellie mejdrich from cq roll call. dr. roe, i want to start with one of the questions that was given to the v.a. secretary, and he said one of the problems in the department is it can take six to eight months to fire or discipline v.a. employees. is that one of the inherent problems? phil roe: it is one problem.
we met with dr. shelton after he was sworn in, and elected and voted on the senate 100-0, which was amazing in today's climate. accountability like that was the first thing that came out of his mouth. so we had looked at and accountability will to be able to allow the v.a. to more quickly terminate poor performing employees. most of the employees, i know many of them, we have a major center. they are dedicated to taking care of veterans. a poor performing employee hurts them and what they are doing. we just want to give the secretary the tools, and we passed an accountability bill out of the house already, which shortens the length of time it takes to discipline a poor performing employee while still allowing them their due process. and when i say slow down, it is still about two months.
it is not like where you may be terminated today. it is still a couple months process even with this expedited method that we are looking at. and senator rubio is going to be carrying a companion bill on the senate side. steve: so how did you strike going after, and employees rights and going after standards that someone doesn't follow? phil roe: if you can have your due process rights, you can actually, after that you can , still appeal to a court. the protection board is still going to be able to look at it. so it is a fair process. we have had employees who have been involved in bank robberies that have taken as much as a year to fire. so i think this is fair. it treats everyone fairly. it is a tool the secretary needs. steve: let me turn to conor o'brien at politico.
connor: thank you, mr. chairman. the accountability bill that was one of the first bills that was passed out of your committee, it is also very similar to legislation the house has passed a couple of times under your predecessor chairman. that has had trouble getting through the senate because of the requirements to get democrats onboard to get those 60 votes. i am wondering, what do you think is different this year about that legislation? does it have a better chance? what makes it different? phil roe: i do. there was an issue that came up in houston, texas just recently, where a provider there, a psychologist, was apparently seeing a patient and viewing pornography at the same time. and this person in the private world had been working at our practice, he would have been fired right there on the spot. makingrson is making
$100,000 a year, and again, you want to protect people's due process rights. expedite, thes to secretary's ability to hire people. we still have 16 v.a. medical centers around the country. we do not have a permanent ceo. it does other things than saying i believe we have a great chance of passing this bill in a bipartisan way. steve: and just a follow-up on that last point that you made, secretary shall can's predecessor -- shelton's said assessor -- predecessor said i , can't fire my way to success. what more needs to be done on the opposite side of that? on the hiring side? i believe they said they had something in the neighborhood of 30,000 openings. some of them have been exempted from president trump's hiring
freeze. but what more do you think you guys you need to do on the hill to table that? phil roe: i think finding quality people. these are major -- the v.a. has over 150 major medical centers. states writinged care for our veterans. these are highly sophisticated medical centers with many of them, a couple thousand more employees just this week. tomorrow on monday, i will be in , los angeles and then in phoenix to go and see the v.a. medical centers. the issue started three years ago with long wait times. they had seven directors in three years. so finding those qualified people, i think dr. shelton doesn't need to go through this process. he just is to say, here is a good person. they are qualified. let's hire them. i think that expedited process needs to be done and quickly. this bill gives him the ability
to do that. steve: we will go to kellie mejdrich. kellie mejdrich: thank you for your time. i would like to talk to you about the v.a. choice program, the 2014 law put in place to pare down wait times at v.a. facilities for veterans experiencing long drive times, waiting too long at a facility. for this program, republicans, democrats and the secretary agree that it is not working as desired, but just passed out of the house, and elimination of the sunset of the program that you said on the floor gives time to work on a larger overhaul bill. you hope to get it to the president by the end of the year. what will that overhaul look like, and how will it the paid for? -- it be paid for? phil roe: let me give you an example. dr. shelton and my committee, and for our viewers out there,
this is a very bipartisan committee. it is a fun committee to work on. i am a veteran. i served in the second heirs convention -- air division in south korea just a few miles south of the dmz. i did some training in the va hospital, and i have seen both veterans and both active duty military. so i understand what it sees -- what is like to see patients and take care of them for 30 years. what we want, what i want as a chairman, as a veteran, and as a doctor, and as a citizen, is the absolute best care for veterans were ever they get it. it doesn't mean just the v.a. it means providing quality care for veterans were ever a maybe. that is a challenge in rural areas because medical centers tend to be, but not always, but tend to be in more urban areas. so what i want choice, let's forget the 30 miles in 30 days
and for service-connected people, allow them to go to a primary care provider of their choosing. -- but theeran veteran in charge of the health care decisions, not the v.a.. and in defense of the v.a., rule out the choice of the program, which as you pointed out, it is at least bumpy. it was the way it was implemented, not the concept, but the implementation. what we want is a provider network outside of the v.a., private physicians that cover a hole the v.a. has. neurosurgery, those are very hard specialties to find, if the private secretary can provide day care in or out of the v.a., that is what we want. that is what we want to see the choice program do. we will massage this very carefully. those hiccups that occurred not going to be in this bill. kellie mejdrich: so what are the
finances behind this program? this was a $10 billion emergency program, most of which was deficit spending. if you want to eliminate the 30 miles or 40 mile-30 day requirement related to the program, the cbo says day million on the0 floor, as high as $1.2 billion less than the funds by the time that sunset date would have hit, can you assure veterans will see money for the choice program while you are working on a broad overhaul, and how will you pay for more after that money runs out? phil roe: thanks for asking a really easy question. [laughter] phil roe: the choice program they tell us is going to have and $1.2800 million million. the reason we lost last week was because there are people -- now let's say you are a pregnant woman, a veteran, who needs
care, but the due date is after the seventh of august. they could not enroll you in the choice program. if you had cancer and were getting chemo therapy or other treatments past you couldn't be august 7, enrolled. that was stopping patients right now from getting the care they needed. we had to get that sunset date removed. then we had to work through the time. to pay for it, we think the v.a. can do a much better job at collecting. if i went to the v.a., i have a perfectly good health -- a reasonable health insurance plan. you can build that plan. and the v.a. does that. if i went to the v.a. for instance, and i have private insurance, which i have, they can bill my private insurance. dr. shelton has other ideas of revenue generation. the president has said very clearly that he wanted to increase spending for the department of defense and for veterans. he made a promise on the campaign trail.
and i can tell you i think he , intends to keep that promise. , you know, chairman as a doctor, you have placed a higher emphasis on reforming how the v.a. does health care. and i'm just curious over the knowcouple of weeks, you the house was able to do repeal , and replace of the affordable care act, which is kind of a rallying cry for republicans. i am kind of wondering if the house wasn't able to do something like aca, which proved to be a flashpoint for a lot of republicans, how do you think you are going to have to approach fundamental reform of the v.a. health care and can you do it? phil roe: it is a process. there are discussions going on as we speak. i have been involved from the get-go. the v.a. is a separate issue, and is one that we have made a
commitment to our veterans since the civil war to take care of those who have borne the battle. it is such a privilege for me that i have never dreamed i was in private practice in johnson city, tennessee, rural tennessee i would be having an opportunity , -- i grew up in a military town. all of my friends dads were sergeants. i thought the sergeants ran everything, then when i got in the army as a young captain, that is true. they do run everything. and a vietnam air veteran, many of our vietnam era veterans to not get treated very well. i had to finish my medical training. i had a basically pretty focused on what i was going to do. a lot of the people that i knew, guys i went to high school with, college with, did not have that opportunity, so i am glad to have the country step up. i can ors me proud --
river on the airplane back in the 1970's, and they even told us not to wear our uniforms when we traveled as soldiers. can you imagine that? i sit and in airport and get a lot of them. i will be in one this coming week. i hear the first thing -- if you are a soldier or military person, you can board the plane first. that makes me proud to sit there as an old veteran and see how our country has changed its attitude. i think is my opportunity now, and i can make everything right in everybody's life, and i won't get everything right, but i can assure you our committee is laser-focused in doing the right thing for veterans. let's pick up on the larger issue of the aca. as you indicated, a two week district work period. speaker ryan wants to get health care done. and you had told local reporters in tennessee that a third of your counties cannot even get insurance on the exchange. my question is, would any reform
change that? phil roe: it would. senator alexander, the health committee chairman on the senate side, brought forth a piece of legislation. if you are in any county in tennessee, especially knox county, there are no options. if you have options on the achange, let that person buy non-aca compliant plan. and you can. they are available in the state, but then not fine them, penalize them. we have people buying stuff, then buying the other plans because they can afford it. the problem is not just people inaccessibility. people can get access. it is the affordability of it. that is true for many veterans. kellie: i wanted to drill down on the discussion of trump's budget request which you brought
up in a previous question. a 6% increase, we are waiting for more information later in may on the larger budget rollout. but you have previously said you don't know if it is necessarily meaning more funds given the year of increases. it might just be a matter of how the money is spent. in light of those comments can , you talk about the proposed increase to the v.a. and what you think of it? phil roe: i can. obviously resources are needed. it is how you use those resources. let me just run through. i have not been here that long. i have been here since 2009, so eight years. when i came here v.a. was , spending on health care benefits and cemeteries about billion. that is a lot of money. they had around 260,000 employees and an enormous organization. eight years later, the taxpayers out there have increased that spending. they have provided the resources
to almost $180 billion when you include the choice program. in the v.a. has increased almost 160,000 employees. when you ask yourself the question, is it that much better? the answer is no. if you talk to veterans. so i think dr. stilton understands he has run large organizations before. and we have really a separate silo of things we do. we have the health care side. that is what people see when they go to the clinic or to see their doctor. the other is the benefit side. a side i realized we didn't have anda side i realized we didn't have control over, which i will visit in los angeles, our cemeteries. we have cemeteries around the world that we care for. so i think the resources are there. i have seen, and this is incredibly frustrating for me. when the dod and the v.a. got together several years ago to try to make those two health records operative they spent $1 , billion, that is $1000
million on trying to make that happened. failed. wasteded $1 billion -- $1 billion. it could have been spent on health care or benefits. the v.a. hospital out in denver colorado is over $1 billion over budget. we can't continue to waste taxpayers money. as resources as you pointed out the choice program was deficit , spending. but his angst to a lot of us. -- that is angst to a lot of us. i think dr. shelton understands that. i work inside the v.a. system to say, how can we better spend those precious resources to provide the benefits for veterans? not make the bureaucracy bigger, and be a jobs program, but to provide health care benefits for our veterans. and a final resting place. steve: but for kelley's is it point, the right amount the president is proposing? is it too much for the v.a. and defense department? phil roe: that is a great
question. if we do the charge program, we don't have the cbo score yet, but as soon as we do, we will know how to frame the choice 2.0. we will not know that until we get a score from them. kellie mejdrich: to follow more on resources, the inspector general has told appropriators that they lack the resources to properly investigate whistleblower complaints. there is this appeals disability complaints, appeals backlog that continues to be a problem. how would you reallocate resources or is there a need for resources in those programs? phil roe: well, we are going to have a bill out of the house very soon. i think it will get easily passed to help streamline the appeals process. and what we are going to say to our veterans is you can take a , fast track if you want to. and that fast-track means that
during the process, you want to get an evaluation fairly quickly. when i say quickly, we mean about 120 or 125 days. but during that time, if you choose that route, you cannot begin to add more and more information. what throws these claims off is when it will get downstream, and the veteran will add another piece of information. it backs up and starts all over again. also this also goes into the , antiquated i.t. system. they don't have a way to go from the claims and look back into the health record of a veteran electronically. we have to do that. and that is choice 2.0 and i.t. reform that we have to do. i think dr. shelton wants to do that so you can do scheduling, contracting, claims, and health care in a platform that is not -- intraoperative, not layered.
-- it was really leader in the house. it was the starting place. they tried to put functions onto it that was never designed to do. we will talk to the secretary about how to do that. we spent $4.5 billion on i.t. that is a lot of money. 86% of it went to maintain the platform they had. not to add new functions. steve: let me turn to connor o'brien of politico. connor: i would like to ask about your relationship as chairman with the senate veterans affairs committee. in the past, there have been some differences over the size and scope of legislation that the two committees have produced. the senate as kind of gone with some bigger costly legislation. the house side has tried to take some smaller bites at the apple. i am just wondering, how do you see the relationship playing out in terms of you and chairman
johnny isakson over in the senate cooperating on legislation? do you think you are on the same page in terms of process? phil roe: i do. one of the things i did as get me airman was to point where i could see as many senators to talk to. senator sanders, senator murray, senator mccain, on and -- rubio, i talked to all of them personally. i wanted to have a relationship so they would know me and what i was trying to do and what my vision for v.a. was and to hear their vision and listen. i spent a great deal of time building those relationships. i think it is important to be on the same page. that is what i have done to start with. steve: kellie mejdrich. kellie: you have been complimentary of the new shelton, and david
the former v.a. health administrator. the previous secretary bob mcdonald sometimes clashed with the house committee. i wanted to know with you as the new chairman and the new administrators, how do you hope this relationship works when it comes to tackling these large legislative overhauls? phil roe: first of all, i think secretary mcdonald was highly qualified. and i think dr. shelton certainly is also. it is important to sit down on a one and one basis and say what , is your view? what is your vision for where you want the v.a. to be? i think we have had eight years to sort of formula that. one of the things that has been a problem for v.a., and this is a huge agency. this is the second largest in the discretionary part of the budget and entire government. it is a big organization.
but for us to have the same philosophical views, does that line up with what the administration wants to do? it certainly sounds like it does. we have a great working relationship with the political side of the trump administration in v.a.. i personally have gotten to know them. i say look, here is my vision. is it something the president could support? the answer was yes. so you lay it out and say, what do we need to get there? i think the secretary is gathering the tools, and we are giving them to him. we will not be completely successful because it is so big. putting the i.t. in will be a 10 thereroject, and i think are secretaries in the fbi that have an eight year appointment. at that is a big task. it will be good because you continually change coaches, the team never really rallies around.
i wish we could know that dr. shelton is going to be there for at least four years and hopefully eight. i think you've that occurred, he could have changes. steve: what would have been the past problems with crisis hotlines, suicide hotlines, and have they been resolved? phil roe: the crisis obviously , suicide is an incredibly -- it is one of the saddest things i can think of. it is completely preventable, and we, the last was around 20 veterans per day. that is an enormous number of people. the crisis hotline was established in 2007. and it definitely had some problems. it has improved dramatically. we had a hearing this past week. i was encouraged by that. we are not where it needs to be, but they are picking up 99 point some decimal points of the calls. you never know for sure. and it will take probably several years to see if we have
had a decrease in that. we know of the veterans 21% more , than the population in general. that did not used to be the case. we are not sure why that is. it used to, before 9/11 the , suicide rate among the military was actually less than what it was in the general population. i think there are people out there, and everyone on that committee that is committed to doing everything -- it is preventable, and we need to do as much as we can. steve: follow-up from connor o'brien. connor: i just wanted to generally get your thoughts on where you think that crisis line is. the v.a. had initially said they were in the process of fixing it, and i know that has caused a lot of alarm for lawmakers. at the same time the trump administration has also proposed
creating its own separate hotline in the white house. and i am wondering what you think about that proposal. phil roe: i don't know the details of that, so i can't really comment on it. but one of the senators, the ones in new york and atlanta -- the frustrating part for me was gao and ig made a number of recommendations over a year ago. the v.a. hadn't completed any of them when they said they would. i asked a question during a hearing are you going to , complete those recommendations that you say you agree with? it is really frustrating to sit here in a committee and have someone a year ago tell us we agree with all that then not do anything. i think we have new leadership. and one of the new problems was leadership again. they are trying to get a permanent director. i think that line is heading in the right direction. from what i heard the other day, we can believe what we heard,
folks, ranking member walsh and myself, were encouraged by what we heard. steve: the house veterans affairs committee, republican from tennessee, thank you for being with us here on newsmakers. we appreciate it. phil roe: thanks for having me on. steve: let's go back to the secretary's comments, what is the biggest challenge he is facing? kellie mejdrich: i think just the broad overhaul of community care combined with visibility legislation. this is something congress has been working with to make improvements to visibility on for a long time. the house and senate have not been able to make it to the president's desk. and so shelton comes in, and he wants to take up the helm of what bob mcdonald brought in. a private, former ceo of procter & gamble comes in, wants to really change things. he has projected an agenda of
kind of continuing on that kind of work. i think there is a real question as to whether in the 115th congress, the president, the the a administrator, and the house and senate -- v.a. administrator and the house and senate can actually work together to make changes to these programs. steve: and brian separate , issues, separate topics, but the same with regard to health care. is this any different from the debate where it failed for the aca? is there bipartisanship support? connor: there is right now. an extension of the choice program as keli noted has passed overwhelming bipartisan support. and the criticism of the choice of graham has also been bipartisan in that the rollout not go well, was not executed well. a lot of bureaucracy. see how will have to what the proposals are to
further reform the system and community. the and see if democrats have expressed concern that the trump administration is seeking to privatize the v.a. republicans say they are not seeking at all to privatize the v.a., just give veterans more choice. we will have to see how that plays out. kellie: fiscally there are mixed messages coming out of congress the v.a. -- congress and the v.a. they talk about how there are such increases in the agency 's budget. there is currently floating around, yet the v.a. comes to these hearings and say we are resource strapped, we don't have the ability to meet for medical care, we don't have the ability to meet money for investigations. even during the obama administration, the office of special counsel spans -- panned
the administrator for not being able to adequately investigate whistleblowers. so there is a real question on the agency side, is there enough money for the v.a. to have the capacity to implement its policies? but there is also this nagging issue of how to fund the choice program. $10 billion, nearly all of it deficit spending, passed in 2014. they have $1 billion in change, maybe less, for veterans to utilize in the meantime. they hope to get legislation by the end of the year, but it is not clear to me whether that is going to last through december. and if not, that would leave a lot of veterans very concerned. as the chairman noted, he seems to have some confidence they will be enabled to an act in time, but it remains to be seen how they would actually pay for this. steve: and that budget debate is front and center in the next
couple months. let me conclude with a question, you brought up the house and senate committee. have there been past issues or tension between the two chambers on veterans affairs? connor: i would say those are two of the more bipartisan in congress. but i think you have different philosophies between the house and the senate. when bernie sanders was chairman of the veteran affairs committee, the house tried to do some big legislation that was not paid for, a very big expansion of v.a. benefits. johnny isakson try to do the same thing with the veterans first act last year, which did not move anywhere. the chairman's predecessor was more in the vein of moving small bills, little cost. but even when they negotiated the choice program in 2014 how , to pay for it was a big sticking point that held negotiations up for weeks, and
they ultimately went with $10 billion for health care, after trying to figure out various ways within the v.a. budget to offset it. i think it is more of a process approach. and do you make major changes in terms of opening up v.a. benefits, and how do you pay for that if you do it? steve: connor o'brien, we will look for your line -- work online at politico.com. kellie mejdrich, thank you for being with us, and thanks for your questions and your insight. we appreciate it. kellie mejdrich: thank you so much. announcer 1: earlier today, neil gorsuch was sworn in at a white house ceremony. during the event, president trump talked about the significance of the moment in history and the importance of getting justice courses confirmed in the first -- justice gorsuch confirmed. donald