tv Veterans Affairs Secretary Confirmation CSPAN June 28, 2018 1:27am-3:30am EDT
to pick to lead the affair testified to the senate veterans affairs committee. he answered questions on issues facing the va and at first the "washington post" story about his participation in defense several years ago in connection with the group the sons of confederate veterans. the hearing is just under two hours.
[inaudible conversations] calling the meeting together for purposes of the confirmation hearings of the nominee for the next secretary of the veterans administration. before we introduce the nominee for his remarks, the ranking member and i will make opening remarks and then turn over to the senator to officially introduce our nominee and then we will go to questions and answers after the nominee'see
testimony. yesterday in atlanta georgia, a sad occasion and tragedy took place when a veteran of the united states military said himself on fire and was severely injured in the state capital. being my home state, my home city, my country, my capital and a veteran, i immediately called home to find out the circumstances of the situation. i'm very proud of the response given to him almost instantaneously. the va in mylm conversations or doing everything they could to ascertain everything that had led up to this incident and everything that they had done and could have been done and i'm satisfied with the information i have today. the response has been thorough and complete. obviously saving the veterans by this bungled and priority which is in the process of being done and we hope and pray that will happen. the reason i bring it up is
we've had a situation to last tt four years here on the committee. every headline i saw was about something that happened five years s ago there was wrong or bad, never about something happening now that's goodcoming if we had so much good stuff happen, myself, the ranking member of montana. i thought it was time to say we want to make good headlines and confrontt a return to gtd and do everything we can to see to it that it never happens again but he also wanted uplift those that are doing so much to make a better va today than it was in the past. jon tester and i will work hard to make sure that happens and i'm confident that republicans and democrats on the committee will do the same thing. we have a respected and talented nominee you will hear from in just a little bit and we will go through the hearing today if everything goes smooth in the future we will have a secretary sitting at the president's cabinet for the veterans administration to begin building forward on the legislation of
the committee passed for the last two years to make the caregiver as possible, accountability possible, better healthcare for the veterans possible, accessibility for veterans who live in the sparsely populated areas. we've done a plethora of things to improve the place, the service and everything we give our veterans. we arere going to see to it that we put a cherry on top of that sunday and every day is a good day at the va and a better day for all of the veterans. with that said i introduced the ranking member john tester. >> think you and outhank you ans are certainly with the family of the veterans and certainly the folks of georgia and with you because what happened in georgia isn't it news, it's not the kind of news we ever want to hear about a veteran ino this countr. we are going to continue to work together to make the va all it can be.
thank you mr. chairman and robert, it's good to see you and have youou here today. i appreciate your willingness to serve as acting secretary and we will step forward now burning but i believe our unprecedented claims that the va. if confirmed, and you notice hes you will be tasked with ensuring we have access to timely care and services, benefits of housing educational and others that they have earned. he will also be expected to treat every veteran regardless of sexualat orientation with the dignity and respect that they deserve. today this committee is here to determine whether you are the right person for the job. every new administration brings its own priority since people to the table. the transitio transition can ofo andoil and confusion generate uncertainty inside and outside of the agency but from my g perspective the va has alws been about that phrase.
the mission of serving our veterans and families has transcended personal political agendas or political affiliations. since i've been on the committee have been able to work with jim nicholson as closely as they cincinnat should they didn't allow politics to get in the way but recently we have seen to be vapolitical appointees work actively and publicly to undermine secretary and deputy secretary will unanimously be confirmed by the senate. as we speak the secretary's positions are vacant within the va while the same political appointees continue to collect paychecks. we are seeing nonpartisan senior leaders object thaton are expers believe the va in unprecedented numbers. many are concerned that the sound policies and ideas are
being increasingly marginalized to the expense of politics. we are seeing them implement reform after reform in a manner that is inconsistent with congressional intent and given a seat at the table instead of the veterans service organizations. we are seeing the leadership able to lash out at anyone seeking transparency and in the last couplee of weeks the va official media account of less access takes news. the va official media account is to take ms. and the acting secretary is improperly claiming the independent inspector general is his subordinates which couldn't be further from the truth. i hope you agree f that this tye of behaviorop undermines the mission and does a disservice to the millions who rely upon the va services and i hope that everyone at the va who's watching last week when the senate voted 96-nothing t to reaffirm the independence of the
va chief. federal agencies can't be trusted to police themselves. veterans and taxpayers need to know that it's no not above thew so i need to know that you are the guy that understands the va has larger challenges ahead and i think you do. they can't afford to get weighed down by unforced errors and members are counting to implement the act in the next year and it needs to be done with more transparency than the accountability act. congress provided time to move up the act and get it done right. if it doesn't happen, the buck stops with you. we will hold you accountable and i think you understand that. i'm already concerned that the department is as ready as it should for this mission and for example, the va is supposed to be contracted for community care networks that will help facilitate the veterans access to community care. those dates have been pushed back multipleos times now. i'm concerned about that and i hope you are too.
we've also be counting on you to enjoy the care inside the va is accessible and of the highest quality and we've provided tool after two to carry out the mission by the leadership i might say of the chairman isakson to provide those tools and for far too ofte force are a failed to properly devised was to deliver better outcomes and this needs to change. i will be looking to you as a person's is ultimately responsible to make this happen. i appreciate our working relationship as i've told you recently i believe you are a straight shooter had been confirmed, when confronted with a decision of what is best for veterans you will act in the best of intentions. the question is how it will be impacted by the influence of others talking about political appointees at the va or the white house and sooner or later you wer are going to come to a crossroads with these folks. that is what happened with david and tom and countless other
folks who are no longer with the department. my only advice to you is to take their cues from the veterans of the folks that are sitting in this audience and do what you think is right even if the political forces threatened her job because i want you to succeed and i think the veterans across this country in fact i know the veterans across the country want you to succeed. this requires courage, honesty and integrity for the future. leading the nation's largest health care system is no small task and demands the greatest. i look forward to the discussion today and once again i want to thank you for your willingness to serve on behalf of the nation's veterans. thank you. >> thank you. i'm now going to introduce the senator from north carolina for the purpose of introducing the nominee after which i will administer the oath and then he will have his testimony. >> thank you mr. chairman.
chairman isakson, ranking member tester and distinguished d membs of the committee, i'm proud to introduce my friend and colleague robert wilkie as the nominee for secretary of the va. i've had the honor of working with robert for three years now. sometimes he worked for me, and many times they worked for him. his combination of knowledge, humor, humility and art has endeared him to all of my staff and the scores of north carolina constituents, many of them veterans and service members. robert was born in frankfurt germany, and the son of an army artillery officer he literally grew up on fort bragg and lived most of his early life on fort bragg or in fayetteville, north carolina. he received his ba from wake forest university, j.d. from college of law in new orleans and he received his master of law from georgetown university and ministers and strategic studies from the united states army war college. robert is an intelligence
officer in the united states air force reserves today. previously he served in the atlantic intelligence command in the joint forces intelligence command and also served in the united states navy. he's long been regarded in washington and has been held in high regard in washington especially here on capitol hill where he's developed a close relationship with members on both sides of the aisle. he's also forged an excellent working relationship with the committee and the committee staff and is universally recognized as a team player and a mentor. throughout his career in public service, robert also been a trusted advisor to some of the nation's most respected leaders including condoleezza rice, robert gates, donald rumsfeld andld secretary mathis. frankly given the depth of experience, i was pleasantly surprised and proud to have robert accept a position with the newly sworn in the freshman
senator, but it was clear to me from thema start he was destined to serve the nation at a higher level. last year he received a call from the administration when he was nominated to be the under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness. robert demonstrated his extraordinary skills in just a few short months, so it's no surprise to me the administration identified him an the perfect secretary off the v. when he was appointed to the acting role to the secretary, he worked to improve morale earning strong reviews antitrust from the members of congress and the va staff. he moved the site to a point of the electronic health record project which we all know is a critical part of the transformation, and also pushed through the mission act to the finish line. robert has all the education of professional experience required to be the secretary of the va but perhaps what makes robert
best suited for the job is his lifelong experience as an army brat and personal experience of the son of a gravely wounded soldier and servicemember himself. he's literally lived the experience, so i know he will bring his professional experience and insight and intensity to the role that will serve thee veterans while. thank you mr. chairman. >> thank you. would you please rise, robert kahn and raise your right hand and from your pledge? do you solemnly swear or from the testimony you are about to give before the senate committee on veterans affairs will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you god? please be seated and introduce your lovely wife so everybody can get an eye on her. >> thank you sir. my wife julie is behind me. we have known each other since we were youngsters growing up in fayetteville, and as you know
mr. chairman, she has a very strong georgia connection. her grandmother was from georgia and just as in 2006 and 2017 she is with me and nothing but i've achieved would have been possible without her. mr. chairman, senator tester and distinguished members of the committee on veterans affairs, this is the third time i have appeared in the confirmation chair. i mentioned how long i've known my wife and one of the aspects of our relationship in those early years is that our high school was about three blocks away from the fayetteville veterans hospital and every day on our way to and from high school, we would see a sign outside the veterans hospital
says the price of freedom is visible here. i am humbled today not only by the confidence placed in me by the president of the united states and the support of our veteran service organizations to be introduced. having grown up in the military world, he exemplifies what all of us from that will strive to be andor that is a servant lead. as the senator said, i've been privileged to experience military life from many angles as the son of a gravely wounded combat soldier and an officer and as a senior leader in the pentagon including leading the reform in the defense health agency and for eight weeks as the acting secretary of the department of veterans affairs baathist military serviceir was inspired by my ancestors. i walk the field of shiloh with my great-grandfather colonel abrams sommerville as a field
artillery captain he witnessed thousands perish in a matter of minutes in the battle of 1918. in the short time i was privileged to know him, he impressed upon me the cost paid by ordinary americans caught up in the incommunicable experience of the war. as the secretary noted by life changed when my father returned from his second combat in vietnam. i was seven when we received the wordei that he'd been terribly wounded. when he came home after almost a year in army hospitals he weighed less than half what he did when he left. i watched the agonizing recovery and that experience was on my mind when i was asked to come to the va. as the acting secretary of veterans affairs, i visited five hospitals in eight weeks coming up with the combined leadership of the major components benefits, health and cemeteries
and visited the claims processing center in baltimore as well as the maryland veterans treatment court. it was clear to me the veterans population is changing faster than we realized. for the first time in over 40 years, half of our veterans are now under the age of 65. of america's 20 million veterans, 10% are now living. the new generation is computer savvy and demand 21st century service that is quick, diverse and close to home. for the va to thrive as an integrated healthcare network it must be agile but more importantly, i mentioned to senator sanders in our meeting last week i experienced what can and will never be duplicated in the privat private sector and ts the communal aspect of the va. what does that mean? it means when our veterans walk into any facility, they converse with men and women who speak the
unique language of military service. so, what are the priorities? first, improve the culture, offer world-class customer service.ss second, improve access to care through implementation of the act and transformative modernization such as electronic healthth records programs, redue the backlog of claims and payments and finally, business transformation including the reform of human resources systems. the prime directive is customer service. when an american veteran comes to the va, it is not up to him to employ a team of leaders to get the va to say yes. it's up to them to get the veteran to say yes and that is customer service. many of the issues i encountered wouldn't look at the quality of medical care about getting the veterans through the door to reach that care those problems are both administrative and bureaucratic.
alexander hamilton said the true test of a good government is its aptitude and a tendency to produce a good administration. that is where the va must go. the new electronic health record system is the first steps to modernize thstep tomodernize thf modernizes our appointment system and its template t the tt us started on the road to obligate disability claims and/or payment claims particularly to the providers in rural america and those who administer emergency care. more importantly, the interoperability of the electronic health record system would connect them to the vod, private doctors in the private e pharmacies to create a continuum of care and organized health care around the veterans needs. this is also our opportunity to turn the corner and be ann industry leader on opioid abusel intervention and suicide prevention. business transformation to standardize the policies and procedures across the integrated
service networks is also essential if we are to move past the mid-1990s compartmentalized model and give power to the professionals closest toow the veterans this means reforming human resources to give those same people more leeway to manage the budgets that relocate the staff they need to serve veterans. transformation also means entering into more robust partnerships with our state and local communities to address the veteran homelessness and particularly plagues the vietnam veterans and also who suffer the highest rate of suicide. we are also pledged to help the veterans transition to a new life education and nonmilitary career. if confirmed i will leverage the partnership with labor, small business administration and defense and other agencies to carry out the pledge. as the secretary said when the congress passed the
700 billion-dollar defense budget, there are no more excuses. you, the ranking member have infused them with a 200 billion-dollar budget. you've has to be accountability act shake up complacency and past the mission act to bring institutional va community caring caregivers closer together. the future now it's up to the department. i would like to take the opportunity to close with a charge from president eisenhow eisenhower. five months after his inauguration abou of the 40 korn war veteranss climbed aboard the presidential yacht in williamsburg talked about 2 miles from where we were sitting. many of the veterans were missing limbs, some were horribly disfigured. when i arrived at the pier with secret service they ran up the plane to separate thplaintiff. the president from his troops. seeing that, eisenhower yelled holt i know these men. the agents were treated and soldiers gathered around the
president. he asked to address them as attention and those who could did stand but he said that there was nothing the country could do for them to compensat compensatr they've given to america but he also said you never put your uniform away. you have to do well to remind your country that everyday freedom is never free. mr. chairman, that is why the va must succeed. it's to remind americans every dayd that freedom isn't free. i think you an thank you and i d to questions. >> congratulations on your nomination and thank you for an outstanding statement. as i read a read it the read a e last when i met with you yesterday, i thought about what a compelling statement it washt and how appropriate for the challenges we face. i want to repeat what i told you yesterday. so nobody misses or has any equivocation to what we are looking to. you are getting an agency that has had its problems, an agency
that represents the promises we've made to those that serve interests of their lives for this country. an agency in need of help, an agency we are proud of and want to be more proud of. senator tester and his democratic side of the aisle and us on this site have done everything we could in the last year and a a half from accountability to increases to everything in the world we could doe to make the va responded to questions the va has had. you mentioned 200 million-dollar infusion. there are no excuses anymore. failure is not an option. we know what the problems are. we know what we need to do. we stand ready to be the wind at your back and to have your back to see to it are vetera veterans with a fought for and the american people see us in the way that they've not been able to get married in the future. that is my one admonition.
i'm on duty 24/7 and if you have a problem you call us because we want to fix it before it festers. when you say customer service to the veteran, tell me what customer service means to you. >> customer serviceme to me meas before the veteran walks into the door of the va, he has already been created through schedules, medical professiona professionals, americans ready to serve him. i noted in some of the debates, the greatest problem you saw was getting the veteran through the door. i have no doubt the va provides some of the finest care in america, but i also understand getting to that care is something that the leadership of the veterans affairs department has to focus on like a laser
beam. world-class customer service is the key and that ties into something you and i talked about in your office and that goes to the human resource management. first people to contact you are usually schedulers. they've had a hard time keeping those. train them and then they often leave. i do believe it is incumbent on the secretary i to have long discussions with the office of personnel management to make sure the secretary and those who work have the ability to adjust pay scales so people who are there at the very ground-level when a veteran comes to work or comes to be seen, treated respectfully, stay in that job and learn what it means to talk to the veteran. >> as you know, senator
sullivan, senator boozman, senator tester, other members of the committee represents states where veterans are a long distance away from our va facilities. sometimes a full day's drive in some cases montana as big as it is. as you know in the debate on the bill, and the markups a choice program that works to make the healthealthcare services availao the veterans is the key to that argument and debate. will you work as hard as you can and tell us what you plan to do to see to it that the choice is reality and w employment when we and the problem of the veterans of being up to reach the services thatnd they deserved. and this goes to something senator tester and senator sullivan and i worked on and i will sa save those of us from te east even in the 21st century do not understand the scale of the american west. in montana on a normal journey
it sometimes would take 600 miles round trip ticket t ra decent va facility. choice means giving the veterans and their family g caregivers te opportunity to engage with va anytime of the day for things like tele-da health but also the development of the community care networks which will provide them access to services the va can't provide, services that will be close to home so that the burden is not on them to get to o the va. the problems with choice were also such that because it was rapidly implemented our providers were not being paid, not only of aro small-town used the small community hospitals where veterans go to get emergency care. if we do not automate the system and make it a part of an
integrated community care network, we will have failed at the veterans but in particular those who lived in the larger states geographically. >> senator tester. >> thank you mr. chairman and thank you for being here mr. wilkie. when you agreed to take the job, whether any conditions attached? >> no sir. >> will you be able to appoint your own deputies to carry out your vision? >> yes, sir. >> are you in power to do what is best for the veterans even if it is in disagreement with the president? >> yes sir and i will say as the senator noted, i've been privileged to work with some of the most high-powered people in this town. doctor rice, doctor gates, secretary rumsfeld and mathis. they paid me for their opinions and then i give them or i wouldn't be working.
>> as i mentioned earlier my statement the acting secretary recently directed the independent va inspector general to act as a subordinate. i can go through his direct quote, but do you think that is appropriate? the inspector general and coming from a military life, the inspector general is an integral part of any organization. i'm not familiar since i left with all of the particulars that you are talking about, that the ig's is a partner believe that
they work for you. >> i believe it works with me, independently. >> yes, but the ig, as any ig and i've certainly worked with the department of defense ig, it is given assignments by the secretary. would you commit to not interfere or hinder the independence of the ig and be transparent with information when asked to get it. >> not only do i commit to
that but interference with the inspector general's investigation, even though i'm a recovering lawyer, is probably criminal. all right. thank you. look. we've heard about the choice program and it's been a train wreck. i think it's part of the problem. it is not the case with the mission act, congress has provided the va with a full year to implement that program with funding for a full year to get that program off the ground. any delays or snags will not be, i just don't think it will be accepted by this committee. the implementation of the rules established in the standing of the community care networks, i talked about them in my opening statement. i'm troubled that these
contracts, that the wards have been delayed. i think they could potentially undermine your ability to establish a robust program and we would fall right back into the same pitfalls we have with no choice. the question is, day one when you get on the job, as it applies to the mission act, what are you going to do to make sure this program works. >> the last project i began before i had to leave and return to the department of defense was a deep dive on the integration of the three regional community care network contracts. my understanding is they are on schedule to be signed or implemented at the end of the year. i didn't get much beyond that. i will pledge to come back here, if confirmed and give you a report as soon as i get there. it can't be delayed any longer.
>> you talked about one of the problems is getting through the door of the va. i agree. i had a bunch of interns and if you could do one thing with the va what would it be and i said we don't have enough doctors or nurses. there's clinica 200 clinical vacancies in montana. that's unacceptable what you plan to do? these vacancies need to be filled. what can we do differently to make sure we get folks on board. >> two things. because of the size and complexity, a blunder approach to filling the vacancies which you rightly mentioned will not work, we have to target where va has the greatest need. to me, even though i'm not a doctor and as primary care positions and internist, to skills that are essential and
medical professionals who specialize in women's health, the second part of that would be to finally create a holistic approach to veterans care. i was stunned when i visited the small business administration and was told i was the first secretary they had seen in a long time. there are a lot of places in the federal government we can go to leverage resources to help veterans, particularly in those things that we don't often talk about, education, vocational rehabilitation and job training. >> senator rounds. >> thank you, mr. chairman. thank you for being here. i appreciate your service to our country and taking on this very challenging job. i am one of the senators appear who voted against the new mission act, and i did it
not because there weren't some good ideas being brought forth in the new proposal, but rather because of some protections that were filed within the previous choice act and are no longer there. one of them was the fact that if you went for 30 days without being able to get in that you could go to the doctor of your choice. i guarantee that is now gone. at the same time, today the most recent count that i've got, 53% of those veterans who were initially applying for application for services were going beyond 30 days. those folks no longer have that promise they can go someplace else. you made it very clear you want to provide world-class customer service. what i would like you to be able to do is share with the veterans out there the number of days they should expect to have to wait, if any, in order to get in, and how long will
it take you to change it for more than 30 days which it is now, to a reasonable number of days under the proposal that includes a community care network? i will keep mentioning that i'm not a doctor, but i was certainly responsible for the reform of the health agency. we tackled the waiting times that our military dependents were facing. we had, as the va did, on many military installations, our families still making appointments on paper. the threshold question is a complicated question. it depends on what the veteran is seeking. if the veteran is seeking a yearly physical, i would not expect va to handle that in two or three days. if the veteran is ill, i would
expect the va to move as rapidly as possible. the 30 days is unacceptable. it goes back to the reform that are contained in the mission act. i think the beauty of the electronic health record system is that it actually gets to that. it has markers put into the system that will alert institutional va as to how rapidly they have to get that veteran into the system. it will, there will be a scale based on what that veteran needs. 30 days is an acceptable. again, with the new automation coming i think we will have, for the first time, the ability to do a triage as soon as that veteran or his pharmacy or his local doctor put information into that system.
let me just ask, how long do you think it will take to implement that system before veterans can actually expect to have their waiting time less than 30 days. >> that system will take several years, but, what are we doing in the several years in which veterans have got right now, waiting times that are in excess of 30 days. the changes that i will be advocating in terms of bridges in the appointment system will address those issues as well as better training for those making the schedules for our veterans. we still have a computer system that does that. it does need to be updated, but we would be able to transfer in increments. what you're saying is that it's going to be a while but that you're focused on it.
>> yes. >> next, i've got literally dozens of providers in south dakota who had provided services to veterans who have never been paid. were talking anywhere from hundreds of thousands of dollars to millions of dollars. would you commit to us today that you will work so those folks that are still owed dollars have an appropriate avenue to get reimbursed for the services they provided. >> absolutely. >> thank you. and last, you said something in my office which i think was very compelling. i just want you, you bring a huge perspective from being a military dependent and a senior civilian leader and a staffer to a very difficult job. i want to thank you once again for the service. when we met in my office last week, you brought up a number of challenges you witnessed during your time as an acting va secretary. would you expand on your reference to walking the post
and other expenses you've had from your time in and around the military. how would you like to bring that to the va? >> yes, sir. walking the post is an ancient military term that requires the commander to walk amongst his troops. i think senator tillis will laugh at me. it dates from shakespeare. it is beaten into our heads from the time we raise our hands. i will tell you, i'm not casting aspersions on anyone, i was amazed walking into headquarters in some parts and being told that i was the first secretary that many of those folks had seen. i mentioned in the first statement that i gave at the va that i have to be a bottom-up organization. that anyone who sets in the secretaries chair and claims he has the answers should not be there.
walking the post means talking to the people and the veterans were using va services and getting out in the field. >> thank you. >> mr. wilkie, i think of the right man for the job. senator sanders. >> and mr. chairman. thanks for being here. let me be blunt and tell you what my dilemma is. the veterans organizations in the veterans in the state of vermont are quite proud of the va. they feel everything being equal, once they get into the va they receive high-quality care. there is, to the best of my knowledge overwhelming
opposition to the privatization of the va from the american legion, the vfw and all the major veteran organizations. we have a statewide veterans meeting a couple months ago and they all say varney do everything you can to prevent the privatization of va. the president introduced the budget that called for a trillion dollars cut in medicaid over a ten-year period. $500billion cut in medi-cal. we have a congress who wanted to and the affordable care act. we have a sentiment here that is not terribly in favor of public health or government run healthcare. and yet of course, the va for all intents and purposes is a socialized healthcare system. then on top of all that we have the former secretary who i got to the pretty good job, when he was fired by the
president choke and indicated he thought it was because he wasn't moving forward on privatization as fast as the president had wanted. given that complex, let me ask you two questions. number one, do you believe in the privatization of the va? >> no i do not. >> will you vigorously up pose whether it's the coke brothers and various organizations or the president of the united states any effort to privatize the va. >> my commitment to you is that i will oppose efforts to privatize va. >> the difficulty is the devil is in the details. chairman isakson made a good point which i agree with that we constantly hear negative information about the va but
we know that the va is doing phenomenal work all over this country. there is no disagreement on this committee that if someone has to travel 300 miles to get a physical checkup that that's insane when they can get it in their office or if someone can't get the services they need a local va, of course they should get a local caregiver. no one debates that but the devil is in the details. what happens if you have a va where people can walk in in a prompt manner but someone prefers to go to a private sector doctor, number one, and on top of that one of my concerns and the reason i voted against the bill is that it $.5 billion into the care program and zero dollars into the va. my fear is that we will see a drip by drip depletion of funds for the va and the services they provide putting that into the choice program. what you feel about my concerns. >> senator, you and i had a great discussion about this in your office.
i believe in the centrality of va. i will also say there are things that va does like going through the medical items that will never be replicated in the public sector. spinal surgery, prosthetics, audiology, services for the blind. you won't find that anywhere. i do believe that if we believe that the veteran is central, we can also make the argument that as long as the va is at the central node in his care and not veteran has a day-to-day experience with the va and walks through where va can help him with care when he immediately needs it, that reinforces the future of the va and that's what i believe
in. i also think. >> i apologize. look, let me just ask you a question. would you support a full funding of caregivers program so that every generation of veterans will have that service. >> as i said, i come from, i'm a dependent of the vietnam era. >> one of the concerns that many veterans organization half is that dental care, which to me is an integral part of healthcare is not part of va healthcare other than service-connected. would you be willing to look with me at expanding health care to dental care even when it's not service-connected. >> i left your office, and yesterday we talked with the chairman about that issue. if the chairman is desirous,
we will explore that with you. i don't know enough about it, but if there are hearings down the road we will surely participate. >> my understanding is we will have a hearing on that issue. >> the senator is correct. i brought it up only talked yesterday and i told you on the floor that we wouldn't do any add-ons to any bills going through which was the request you made on the bill but i would assure you that we would have a hearing and it would be timely. i've got a couple other promises that i've made including one to miss murray. i live up to my promises. you will have that chance. >> thank you, mr. chairman. >> senator moran. >> chairman, thank you very much. thank you for your presence with us today. thank you for your service to our nation and as a public official.
you've been through a few hearings and i'm delighted to have you back have a conversation. when i judge whether the va is working for veterans, i do so by what we call casework which is when veterans seek help from my staff to solve problems for the number is increasing not diminishing. it suggests to me that we need to do more into make certain that those who need our help receive our help. right now we have 80 open veteran cases with us that he stream of about 30 cases each month. you indicate in your statement that when a veteran comes to the va you want him to employ a team, excuse me, he ought not employ a team of lawyers to get the va to yes but i want to commend you on that and work with you to make
certain you have the best opportunity you can to get the va to a position of yes on the half of those you are the department is created to serve. before i jump into a couple of questions, i will highlight a couple of things and construction, both at leavenworth and wichita va med centers. there are efforts afoot for long time to create a partnership, a public-private partnership, a partnership between the air force base, mcconnell and the va. i raise those today in your confirmation hearing because i will be back with you, those have been on the list for a long time, those partnerships are something we ought to pursue and to date the va has failed to do so. in regard to my questions, acknowledge and believe you have a monumental task ahead
of you. i think in reforming and successfully implement in the va mission act, i think it was implemented correctly it can be transformative. it can reduce the number of cases that my staff and i pursue on behalf of veterans. one of my complaints and i raise this in the confirmation hearing of one of your predecessors is so often when congress passes legislation the va implementation, in my view, is contrary to the intent but in many instances contrary to the letter of the law that we've implemented. what can you tell me about your efforts in regard to implementation of va mission act. how you make certain the will of congress is pursued. i've seen in my view pushback from the department of veterans affairs in community care. how can you overcome that? >> first of all i support, as
i told senator sanders, community care and its funding. may i take a step back and tell you how i did it at dod. as many of you know who work. [inaudible] in order to meet to send a signal that the organization was capable of moving forward. my first directive was to implement outstanding instructions from national defense bills going back to fy ten. the va has a problem as you mentioned, but the problem that dod work catastrophic. dod had not implemented the exceptional family member program from the fy ten bill. it had not implemented the sexual harassment policy from the fy 13 bill. it had not begun the full
implementation of defense health reform from fy 17 there. i issued the directives for va for dod to carry out those programs. we now have a section on sexual harassment and exceptional family member programs are moving out and were looking at october 1 for the first implementation. i don't know all of the specifics of the outstanding. [inaudible] from past authorization bills but they give you the same pledge i gave senator mccain that i will get the list and start moving on it. >> i look forward to working with you on that regard. don't have much time but i would say i know they raise the issue of vacancy, positions unfilled. i think that department of veteran affairs has a challenge not only in filling current vacancies but also in adding employment and finding different types and more
providers for the medical services. again, i would hope that you would confirm that you have an aggressive approach to filling vacant positions and adding more were needed. >> yes or. >> thank you mr. chairman. >> senator murray. >> thank you. i appreciate you being before us today. before i get into some of the specific veteran policy issues, i do want to express my concerns with report about your opposition for equal paid equal work and your record on diversity and your passionate advocacy for the confederate flag. i'm not going to ask you about it at the committee hearing print i will submit for the record but i do want to get answers back on those from you in writing. mr. wilkie, as part of a mission act, congress expanded its eligibility for the caregivers program to veterans of all errors and added critically needed services. accordingly i were to include
in the veterans of preparation bill almost $861 million for the caregiver program. 365 above the president's request. they have the resources they need to start implement in this expansion. we need the va to commit to taking the needed reform to enhancing capacity and strict oversight of this programs and operations so it's extremely important, if confirmed, i want to know, we make it a top priority for the va to fully implement the new caregivers law as congress intended. >> absolutely. >> okay. we will count on that and be watching. >> two years ago this congress gave va the authority to provide ivf and other necessary fertility treatments for ill or injured veterans and their spouses. access to the scare is really important. it can help our veterans realize the dream of starting a family. access to the scare is still difficult. if confirmed, will you ensure
additional providers are enrolled in the program and any other necessary steps taken to make sure our veterans do have easy access to this treatment in the country. >> center, women's health is a frontier, the new frontier for va. absolutely. the issues that i confronted at dod are similar to the one that va. in response to senator moran's western of congress has spoken on the services that you just described and we will move out on those. >> this is really important. this is about veterans who have been injured through no fault of their own, our country has promised to make them whole again and being a family is part of it. this is something i will leave following very closely. senator sanders asked about privatization. i appreciate that. your answer was important to all of us. : : :
>> one of the reasons i got a lot of criticism for not showing up in a signing off on the health-care record, i wanted to see that it could work. i had the best minds from the west coast and experts from other parts of the country that convinced me that it could work. i do want to say though that the
report that we saw at the dod at the nhs is not working two years ago. i'm glad it didn't work because what that was -- ims ahead of the secretaries close combat task force. my job is to make sure that our weapons are tested, systems are tested before we put them in the hands of any of our soldiers. the testing of the system was designed to show us where it wasn't working before we fully implemented. that is due diligence. i believe that many of those problems they were experiencing have been remedied because they started when they start date co. did the beta testing.
i will not committing to put a program on line until it is properly tested. >> since becoming the interim secretary, what are you doing to hire qualified leaders and any individuals to manage the implementation of this? >> in the short term i found experts in complex systems to come on board and it stopped when i went back. i will have to pick it up if i return. >> can you get back to me on the steps that you will take? >> what the senator brought up is extremely important. one of my adventures or misadventures was being selected to take over the department of education or preparation for 187 school systems all of whom have their own software different
from everybody else's to keep up with the systems. i wasn't a computer expert but i ran a large company and after about a week i found out we had problems our own agency cooperating with professionals we hired it to be able to do what they di we did so we fired everybody, canceled the contracts coming off people and that they were doing, finished in six months and passed. i'm going to expect you to be that kind of inspector because what happens to this is that discontinuing all of a sudden you have a crisis, lack of cooperation. the first thing we have to do is have everybody at the ground-level cooperating with the input system to make it work to begin with. i'm sorry i interrupted, but this is important. senator. >> thank you mr. chairman for being here as well as your wife.
when you take on a task like these, they are certainly family affairs and we appreciate both of you all a. you have a varied background and i'm sure that you will serve well in the job that we are asking you to do. you have as a military child from a military office,militaryn civil servant you understand many of the complexities associated with serving the nation and experienced firsthand the importance of taking care of the nation's veterans. we haven't been able to get together yet and look forward to doing that. on the other hand i've looked forward to working with you in chairing the va on several occasions i do support your nomination and will enthusiastically vote for you because of those in the experience i've had with you. one thing i'd like to visit with you that's important, we had a tragedy in arkansas. the va medical center greatly
impacted a number of families in a very negative way. former pathologist was found to be impaired and was terminated and all of the cases are under review by a third party. i am pleased to hear the initial response is being met with positive reports come at a cost center handling the various, we appreciate the effor efforts ofe team on the ground. i think it was a model how you responded to that so we appreciate that very much and i see the doctor here has been partially involved and has done a very good job. the thing i would like to follow up with, i'd like to know if i have your personal commitment if you keep a close eye on the situation as it continues to evolve to ensure timely communications remain a priority, veterans receive timely follow-up care should they need or request it into the
independent reviews are handled expeditiously while maintaining the integrity of the review process. the >> i will follow up by referring back to something senator tester said. the response in arkansas on the tail end was outstanding because you solve a coming together of the u.s. attorney, the leadership of the va in the state of arkansas. the problem obviously was terrible by the time it reached that. where senator tester was talking about vigorous inspector general, that's one of those areas that without a robust inspector general who you're going to have problems finding so it ties into what the ranking member was --
>> i appreciate that. my follow-up wa was i like the commitment that we review the policies and procedures to enact the changes to prevent such a tragedy as a result of this type of misconduct from occurring again in the future. the appreciate that very much. the other thing is, senator murray asked about the it system and i was like -- we appreciate the response you had concerning that. i guess for what i would like to know is how you believe the program is progressing now. hasn't been very long, but the progress now come and do you anticipate any additional delays or challenges during the implementation >> i don't anticipate any now, but i do want to say that it
can't happen overnight. it is a four year implementation system or the caregiver network. veterans injured before may 7, 1975 from other programs will be fully online i believe by 2019. two years later, those come after the end of the vietnam war will be fully online. i will do my best to accelerate that, but i've read a lot in the paper about this program happening overnight. this is a radical change in terms of the mission act for the va. it's still taking the department of defense a while to get tricare right. this is one of those problems
that we will implement. i ask every nominee to answer the following two questions. number one cause since he became an adult if you ever made unwanted requests for sexual favors or committed any verbal or physical harassment or assault of a sexual nature? >> no. >> have you ever faced discipline or entered into a settlement related in this kind of conduct? >> never. >> i want to ask about his home in hawaii that we discussed briefly in the meeting with a
terry options fo for veterans of the many islands including the va clinic. there are levels in the procurement process that my office has been monitoring including the patient healthcare access. >> i am very well aware of the unique challenges of both hawaii and alaska face. i would take you o and your invitation to come see those. >> as the under-secretary of thf defense, you implemented in a sexual harassment policy early
in your tenure and i commend you for that. a few months ago the system protection board came out with a troubling survey of federal employees have found the va have the most reported instances of sexual harassment of any federal agency so i assume that this will be a high priority for you and i will be in touch with you as to what your plans are to address the problem at the va. >> i will start by comparing what was done by my office at the department to what has been done at the va. >> we will stay in touch with you on your progress. senator murray referred to a recent article in the "washington post" and will submit questions for the record, but i want to ask when you were working for the then senate majority leader, you've marked as a draft resolution meant to highlight the pay gap and call for equal pay for women for equal work and some of the
reported edits could be considered offensive and condescending particularly the position that you put into this resolution that, quote, called on congress to require young women to finish high school as a condition of receiving welfare. those were your edits to the proposed resolution. why did you put those, because additiomake thataddition to the? >> thank you for bringing that up. i had to put on my memory tap to go back and review that. i was the floor manager for the majority leader. senator lott instructions were that he saw every piece of legislation that came through. i was not an expert in the field. i took it to him. he and the staff made changes. some that i remember making that did not get put into the
"washington post" story that the senator wanted to recognize american women who chose to stay at home -- >> i'm sorry, did you put in that edit? >> i don't remember. i passed it off to staph. >> do you think it's a good idea to require young women to finish high school before they can receive welfare? >> i would not make that a requirement and again i was just the floor manager. i wasn't an expert. >> so women including should have to finish high school to receive government benefits? >> that would never enter my mind. >> thank you. now there are -- the article noted some other positions you took because you worked for some very conservative people such as of course in addition to senator lott, senator helms.
they had some views that were not redeemed very offensive, so considering that there is some concerns raised about your own attitude for the kind of view that your previous bosses know, would you welcome the scrutiny that he would face based on your past positions to make sure you are treating women and minorities fairly and with respect as the head of the va should you be concerned? >> i say respectfully i welcome the scrutiny of my entire record. the "washington post" seemed to stop at my record about 25 years ago. if i had been with the inside, i don't believe i would have been able to work with condoleezza rice or bob gates were jim mattis. and i think i've had mine fulfilled background investigations by the fbi and i
will tell you the first question they ask anyone they talk to is this person someone who discriminates against anyone on the basis of race, sexual orientation or creed and they just finished investigation going all the way back to my 18th year, so i will stand on my record. >> thank you for the reassurance. thank you mr. chairman. >> senator sullivan. >> thank you mr. chairman. thank you for volunteering to serve again. i think that was a powerful opening statement, one of the best that i'v i've heard on anyt nominee and i want to thank you for that. i fully intend to support your nomination and hopefully most of my colleagues or all of my colleagues will as well. i appreciate you and the chairman already talking about
rural issues as i've said before there's a rural america, extreme, and then alaska. it's not just the size. i don't like doing this to the ranking member, but you mentioned montana and i think we are close to five times the size of montana but it's also the expansive you look at as we've talked about in our meeting if you look at the expense of alaska and superimposed it over the southeast communities like my state it would be any kind of a northern florida area. the northern communities in my state would be like the northern part of north dakota and the chain would extend out to san francisco, so my state is a continent wide place and yet we do not have a full-service va hospital in the state of alaska. yet the highest number of deaths per capita and incredibly
patriotic population that includes the alaska native population, almost 20% of my constituents who served have some of the highest rates in the military of any ethnic group in the country, despite let's face it during world war ii there was a lot of discrimination going on from the federal government to this group of patriotic americans. so, we had a very good discussion and i appreciated that. most of it was about these issues as it relates to alaska and so the first thing i would like from you is to get a commitment to come with me to meet with my veterans in t and e these patriotic americans firsthand with. i think it really had an impact on some of our challenges.
can i get that commitment from you? one of the ways va extends reach into my status through partnerships with alaska native health organizations whether it's tribal sharing agreements with the va, one of the many aspects of the mission act that focus on extreme states like ours and some of the other states is these tribal sharing agreements that are mandated in the mission act. so can i get your commitment that he will initiate consultation with the health board and the other tribal health organizations upon your confirmation renewed negotiations for the tribal sharing agreements and nail these down we are working on a five-year extension to the current contract but it's expiring next year and the clock is ticking so it's a high
priority issue for me and my constituents. >> the other issue we talked about was how you suggested and i couldn't agree more when it comes to understanding the needs of local veterans in different states often times the local va really knows best. do you agree with that still? can i get your commitment upon confirmation with that you'll comyou willcome to alaska and ch our local leadership again i think one of the things we see here is we have challenges at the headquarters no doubt that a lot of times the local leadership is working quite well so can i get your commitment on that as well? i put out a with post to a bunch of my veterans on questions they like to ask when he was up for his confirmation and we are
going to sub that a number of those for the record. one of the questions was from a guy by the name of bob toms who lives in the valley and alaska. he's very well-known in my state, be loved but is well known. but if you've been going on constitutiodownconstitution avex months for the tet offensive at the news museum, he is counter attacking it as a staff sergeant in the tet offensive, his cameos are shredded. he received six purple hearts in the marine corps and a silver star in the battle way city. it has depicted and it' is up te in the news museum.
you should take a look. his question to me, the hero among us and we have so many that we are proud of, was the concern we hear from so many veteran but there's been stories of senior leadership at the va not being held accountable for some of the actions they've taken. i think we try to address this in the accountability act, but the veterans themselves are still sometimes stuck in a system that works against them. so we had a basic question when he was up for his confirmation i'm going to repeat. forgive the language coming is a bit of a salty marine, but the hero. the question will you be able to take ass and take names for the veterans was about anybody else if you are confirmed to be the secretary and how will you do that? >> and air force reserve officer we don't use language like that. [laughter]
it takes away from other things but yes, sir. i was proud and you can tell the agent when i was sworn in at the pentagon it was referenced that i'd been born in khaki diapers and i think m the attitude towas and leadership flow from having been in that world my entire life. >> thank you and i look forward to your confirmation. >> thank you, senator sullivan. >> thank you for your service and continued desire to serve. as you can tell we are all proud of the veterans in our state. we still don't have a hospital. >> this morning there were 93 jobs posted on the usa federal
jobs postings for west virginia. primary care physician needed in petersburg. we focused predecessors before and what plan do you have been recruiting especially in rural areas would be alaska, west virginia, rodel north carolina, although states, montana, georgia, what is your plan. i want to go back to an experience i had with the secretary tiller said the leak of an va ribbon cut in my hometown. one thing asked is that one size
job process does not fit the va. fayetteville north carolina has very different needs west los angeles and different needs from west virginia. my pledge, and i think i mentioned in my opening statement is to allow those medical directors and those the ability to move their funds to address the kind of critical needs that they have the funding available and we will work with them to make sure that they do to address the immediate medical needs in those areas. i have to do a deep dive on the whole jobs process. i can tell you, the secretary is thinking deeply about it in terms of the va and the relationship with other elemen elements. let me move on because my time
is limited. the epidemic that we have in our state and our military, how do you propose to have input on basically not getting our veterans health when they are deployed and the treatment alternative when they come back, so to hold if we can stop them from getting hurt and then how we will treat them when they come back. >> i have responsibility for one end. >> we are asking for your input because you are seeing the end result if we prevent that from happening. >> i think this is a case senator sanders mentioned where they've taken the lead. the va has come up with what appears on its face to be a simple layout addressing this and bringing down the opioid addiction and that is with alternative therapies. the use of advil, tylenol and
aspirin in place of tylenol three or other opioids. the other thing the va has done iisn't the size rehabilitative care, motion care. the dod is just getting on the cusp of data so yes i think the dod is moving in the direction the va has moved and it's absolutely vital that we stop it there. >> my final question will be since 98 the budget has quadrupled from $42.38 billion to 188.65. a lot of these factors can be pointed to them getting older,, conduct that has been improved and therefore dealing with more complex injuries and illnesses than ever before, cost of health care is becoming more expensive and we've expanded. and i say we've expanded with
good intentions. a lot of benefits. people are going to ask are we making sure we are getting our best service and care with what we are spending so my question is what do you plan on taking to ensure the high quality services are available for the veterans and families of our american taxpayers also to make sure we are spending their money wisely and getting the care that is needed. >> i will start by saying there are not any more excuses because the infusion of money the committee has given. i do believe we have to make sure that the world-class health services are fully funded. i was asked a question by two members of the committee to the point that does the expansion with mean that spinal cord,
dramatic brain are going to diminish, no. we go where they nee the need ie greatest. >> thank you and to the ranking member also, thank you for this meeting and for taking time with your family that is here with you. i appreciate you being here and being willing to spend time with us. in my office we had a great conversation. appreciate that i am also but i think today is a different opportunity. yesterday was about you and me and today it's those behind you, those representable celinda veterans back in the state of nevada and the plaintiffs to prove you are ready to manage an agency that size it is quite a bit of bureaucracy. i told you yesterday we have 300,000 in the state of nevada, good men and women, patriotic,
take the call together to serve and defend this country and i'm pleased that we have both come to the same conclusion that they deserve the best of the care and benefits that our nation has to offer. let's say that there's about to be done we have va doctors several times he mentioned it a national issue. hoping to get a veterans cemetery in one of our total count is. or caregiver program in las vegas at the nursing facility in reno needs improvement and unfortunately the veteran suicide issues are remaining quite a challenge in nevada. several times i mentioned the doctors shortages -open-brace, but i think that nevada has felt the impact especially in the urban areas like las vegas and the rural areas. let me give you an example. in the 2,016th i was at the ribbon cutting of a va clinic
and with all of the circumstances here we are in 2018 and they still don't have a full-time dr., so 2016 here we are two years later and all of the circumstances and the community they've been waiting to get this worked o work done y office, myself. this committee come of this congress to get the clinic into that town and they still don't have two years later a full-time dr.. can i get your commitment to get a full-time dr. into the clinic by the end of the year? >> absolutely. >> inside the areas with access to mental-healt mental health se veterans can you share with me how you plan to bring more doctors and 12 professionals to these areas in nevada? >> thank you for the time that you have taken with me.
we have to take a deeper look at how we bring doctors into the va. there've been many things the federal government has tried on in terms of recruiting doctors and i think the va has to look at those. we have to do a better job of recruiting the doctors coming out of the military. i'd like to learn about how we can get commitment for the doctors to work to the va and this is my opinion i haven't cleared it with anyone in exchange for their service with the va do we go down the road where we take care of the medical schools in exchange for long-term service with va we do need to make an assessment again
as to where we need our doctors and we do need to also in those underserved areas look at how we incentivize people to go out there. the question i have is i've been learning a lot about these things from carolyn clancy running now and i know she's hard at work trying to address the need in particular. >> time is running out, but one of the things i want to kind of steel from senator sullivan and his request is for nevada veterans have been in this system for decades. they know the inns and outs and the do's and don'ts and frankly have to fight for their care. can i be allowed to take the same request i can get you out to nevada so you can spend time with our veterans to discuss issues important to them? >> and one more question, and
this is about agent orange. i hear from a lot of veterans on this particular topic especially from our blue water navy veterans. as you know the va doesn't provide these veterans disability benefits that they deserve after being exposed and experiencing these harmful effects. i think we can agree this is that right. how do you plan on helping the veterans as well as those exposed to agent orange? >> iem from the generation who saw the effects of that on those who've come back from vietnam, so that is an experience from adolescence that remains with me. on the blue water issue, the house has spoken and it's my understanding that the issue will be taken up by the senate and i stand ready to answer any questions that go down any
avenue of this committee wants in terms of how we address the water. >> thank you for the time. >> with i enjoyed very much our conversation and wishe wish youl through this process and i can expect you to be confirmed and is the new va secretary. yesterday the "washington post" ran a story about your time as a staffer for a very divisive, racially divisive senator you've been appointed to this job by a racially divisive president. that being said, i would ask you this, the secretary needs to serve all regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation. yes or no will yo would you como doing that? >> absolutely. i worked with two previous
secretaries for the heritage center at the dnc. will you commit to this important project yes or no? >> i look forward to going and as you and i have said i just finished reading a biography of one of the great presidents and learned that day ten has been a center for va care for well over 140 years. we heard reports that they cannot account for medical equipment can get information on the missing equipment? at times we've asked the va edition act however they shouldn't us-funding off to expand community care. will you commit to fully fund and stop efforts to privatize the va? >> iem opposed to the
privatization of the veterans affairs department and will continue to make sure it's fully funded. >> supplicant politica >> supplicant political report of the book of the approximately 1700 employees fired since the passage of the accountability bill have been low-level employees with limited offenses not seeing a them for use with e switches as how they said they would use the authority this gives me great concern. will you commit to me that you will not use this to go after whistleblowers are individuals with limited offenses? >> absolutely. i worked on the provision of the act to increase the vacancy will you commit to publicly post vacancy data? >> yes. i do believe they have an obligation to provide medical care and disability compensation for veterans who've been exposed to toxic chemicals while serving the country. >> yes. >> will you increase
transparency with congress in the department's position on agent orange presumptive conditions on blue water navy veterans eligibility for benefits and to establish a process to diagnose construct if bronchiolitis, a condition caused by exposure in the va? >> yes and i will add a transparency is key with this committee and the country and i know my time with senator he had been working on the first efforts to raise the issue. >> thank you. i enjoy your conversation as i said the other day and appreciate the work that's when wthat when wecosponsored so mans together i appreciated the work that you did with him in my office and i think the both of you. >> thank you. >> i first want to thank you and the ranking or because you a couple of years ago and encouraged and endorsed what
became a regular meeting with the leaders of the va to track their progress and i specifically want to thank the ranking member tester for always being here at every meeting over the course of the process with two secretaries. i hope we have your commitment to continue the discussion because i think it was helpful. >> yes, sir. >> with i want to ask you something. i'm not going to say the name of the newspaper, but the person that was reporting the story called me up and i spent probably 15 minute 15 minutes ah as 20 minutes on the phone to talk about you and somehow that insight was -- in much of your recent work history was not at all reported. mr. chair, without objection i would like to submit an article that provides a context that was
written back in 2002 that provides context for a statement asserted in the "washington post" i think it was out of context. something else i want to ask and this may require you have a great sense of memory that is a good recommendation a couple of years ago and at that time you were my senior adviser and a specific amendment was related to providing same-sex spouses with veterans and social security. it would be helpful for some vendors who may not see that you've brought up your role as a manager and the question on
equal pay you don't know how they framed it but can you tell me a little bit in the context of the article that's been mentioned here may be the broad context around the federal flag? there were three events, two of them sanctioned by the department of defense. the only thing i did was introduce with maxwell, the producer of the famous movie gettysburg, and i thank
president obama for this par fof an event celebrated american veterans both of union and confederate delivered by the old guard of the army. the broad issue to address with the "washington post" said i stopped doing many of those things at a time when the issue became a. i think that it was pointed out on hundred 50 years ago on the first decoration day the most ferocious warrior in the union army got william tecumseh sherman said with this committee is now responsible for. we honor all veterans and he ordered flowers placed on the
graves of both union and confederate soldiers, so my last statement on that is i think they have the last word in the face of great. >> you mentioned condoleezza rice and said that in fact if you had any history of the sort othis sortof behavior is that te put forth to be working for them. if you had what you work for me? >> absolutely no doubt. you're going to do a great job as secretary. i leaned over and said i've got to make sure to let him know i've enjoyed the honeymoon because the floggings will begin soon. we need to make sure that we get you in there and that you act decisively and have a sense of priority and bring the resources in the to allow you to accelerate some of the transformation initiatives that you were briefed on i should
mention and the meetings but senator tester and i have had the past few years also included mr. wilkie said you have an insight into what works and what we need to fix the rate. have commitment and evil show what is necessary and what is lacking for quite some time so i look to working with you in your new capacity and i wish you well. >> we have a couple more questions for you. i have a few and so does senator tester. in your position, with major accomplishments are you proudest of as the secretary of defense and how does that prepare you for your take on the veterans administration? >> first of all, extraordinarily proud someone of this stature happened to serve.
i'm very proud of the office of undersecretary defense proposal now readiness is now a place many people want to work. i mentioned walking for post and transformative leadership and i think that has begun to happen. in terms of accomplishments, and fleeing the exceptional family member for 132,000 military families who have children with exceptional needs, autism, mental health issues, cerebral palsy etc. with, getting them trained the reform of the defense health agency so that we no longer have three independent health services army, navy and air force we now have a defense administration andefenseadminisl harassment and assault policy that sends a clear message the military of the united states has changed. everyone who signs up for service deserves dignity and protection and finally, to show
how we've moved, the secretary of defense has uncovered my office to take charge of what he considers to be his most important project and that is the close combat task force that takes a deep look into how we train, equip and fight our front-line forces, or infantry forces for 85 to 90% of the casualties take place. coming from the secretary, there'thereis probably no greatr assignment anyone can have, and i am honored that he gave me the responsibility to help him on that. >> you've acknowledged earlier in your speech you were surprised how many told you they'd ever seen the secretary in that part of the building before. i can tell you one of the first things i did when i was the chairman of the committee is visit the va here and i found
the same thing they've never seen either and i don't think much has changed. of all the problems we have, for now may be the single biggest problem you and i have talked about with. that's going to be the biggest challengchallenge and we are heo back you up and help you with that and anything you can do on the morale issue we are looking forward to help you to build event. last, i would like to ask unanimous consent is a bit for the record a letter signed by eight members of the military retired former joint chief of staff, deputy joint chief of staff at six major officers of the united states military all glowing endorsement of your position as secretary of the veterans administration. i said this for the record. senator tester. >> thank you for being here today.
electronic medical records have been talked about quite a bit and i would just say that i encourage the va purchase, you know what the goal is that i have concerns about how they are communicating plans for this modernization. the price tag is $16 billion we have a ton of leadership to impact this moving forward at least i believe. for example, there's no permanent deputthere is nopermao undersecretary for health, no assistant secretary and no deputy so the question is who do people on this committee hold accountable other than yourself? >> that is the be-all and end-all coming from my world i think the admiral said if you can't point to the man in
charge, nobody's in charge, so that's me. i pledged to the committee i will move as rapidly as i can if confirmed to get those people in place. i mentioned doctor clancy as the executive in charge and couldn't have anybody finer doing that. the process is moving along because of people like her, but i do pledge that i will be talking with you all about filling those jobs. >> do you have folks in mind right now? >> i don't have a list i have to be honest with you. >> that's perfectly fine. the chair and i talked about getting an oversight hearing of the va because there's nobody to hold accountable and you need to quite frankly i think you would appreciate it. there was a situation that happened probably over a year
ago where folks were told not to respond to requests made by committees and it's never been a problem on this committee or previous leadership but i've still got to ask if. if you ask for information will you be as transparent to get that information to anybody on this committee or anybody in the senate for that matter? >> absolutely, for. i was raised in this institution and i take article one seriously. >> okay. when it comes to requests, there's a couple of ways to handle it. people can either turn over the information or they can slow bulletroll it. would you require employees comply with any freedom of information act in a timely manner? >> i will demand they comply with the law and with the request. >> okay.
blumenthal is coming, so you know. the chairman just told me. i will give you my closing statement right now. you've gotten pretty good at this. confirmation, how many times you've been in front of a committee to be confirmed, but you are not iraqi. you're not onlyou not only answ, but you anticipate the questions as good as anybody i've ever seen in front of a senate committee. but i would just say that i as others believe that you are going to be confirmed. i don't know if i would say that it would be a public flogging that you will be held accountable. i think that's our job is to make sure things are moving.
we are here representing veterans, because that is who we take our cues from, and so it is going to be really important that we have a strong leader. you've got a lot of challenges in front of you with and i would just say that i think you've got the tools to do the job. i don't think it will be easy. there will be rough waters on occasion, but in the end if there is good communication between you and the members of the committee particularly the chair man or myself, i think we can smooth out those rough waters. >> and i thank you for your courtesy. >> thank you senator tester. if you could inform senator blumenthal that we both ask the nominee the next 48 hours after blumenthal gets questioned for the record what you respond as quickly as possible so he gets
those end in the process of moving to a confirmation vote at sometime in the not-too-distant future so the quicker you get those answered the better off i and i would appreciate it. >> absolutely. >> thank you. you're lucky you mayou are lucka great lady. she sat there the whole time, she's had her back the full-time. i want to thank everyone. we are grateful for you being here. you've been a part of the process from the beginning and to the members of the committee thank you for the entrance of time spent here and all they've done to help us make this successful. we've all got eac got each othek and we will work hard to make the veterans administration better than it's ever been before with a new secretary. we stand adjourned.