tv Veterans Affairs Secretary Confirmation CSPAN June 28, 2018 7:33am-9:37am EDT
[inaudible conversations] [inaudible conversations] >> this is the purpose 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 we will turn it over to senator tillis who will officially introduce our nominee and we will go to questions and answers after our nominee's testimony. yesterday in atlanta georgia a
sad occasion and the tragedy took place when a veteran of the united states military set himself on fire and was severely injured near the state capital. being my home state, my home city, my country, my capital and a veteran, immediately called home to find out about the situation. embrace proud of the response that was given to them almost instantaneously. they were doing everything they could to ascertain everything that had let up to this incident and everything they had done and everything that could've been done and i'm satisfied the information i have today that the response has been thorough and complete. honestly saving veterans life is number one goal in parity which is in the process of being done now and we hope and pray that will happen. the reason i bring it up with this. we've had a situation for my last four years on the
committee where every headline i ever saw about the va was about something that happened five years ago that was wrong or bad. never about something that's happening now that's good. they have so much good stuff happening now that i just does time to say this, we want to make good headlines. we want to confront every tragedy when it happens and do everything we can to put every resource behind it and see to it never happens again but we also want to uplift those in the va who are doing everything they can to make it better than it was in the past. we will work as hard as we can to see that happen. we have a respected, talented nominee you will hear from just a little bit. will go through the hearing today and hopefully everything will go through and we will have a secretary and will begin building forward on legislation this committee has passed for the past two years
to make caregivers possible, accountability possible, better health care for veterans, accessibility for those who live in sparsely populated areas. we have done a plethora of things to do everything we can for our veterans. we will see to it that we put the cherry on top of that sunday and every day is a good day at the va and a better day for all the veterans of america. with that said all introduce our ranking member. >> thank you, mr. chairman. our thoughts are certainly with the family and the veterans and certainly with the folks of georgia and with you. what happened in georgia is not good news, it's not the kind of news we ever want to hear about. just know that we will continue to work together to make the va all can be. thank you, mr. chairman. robert, it's good to see you
and it's good to have you here today. i appreciate your willingness to serve as acting secretary appreciate your willingness to step forward now during what i believe are unprecedented time that the va. if confirmed you'll be tasked with ensuring our veterans have access to services and care and benefits that they have earned. you'll be expected to treat every veteran regardless of race gender and sexual orientation with the respect they deserve. this committee is here to determine whether you are the right person for the job. every new administration brings its own priorities and its own people to the table. that transition. can also lead to turmoil and can generate uncertainty inside and outside the agency. from my perspective the va has always been above that fright for the sacred mission of serving our veterans and
families has always transcended personal empirical agendas or political affiliations. since i've been in this committee i've been in work with jim nicholson as closely as i worked with jim peake and bob mcdonnell. recently we have seen va political cronies worked actively to undermine a secretary and adeptly secretary are unanimously concerned by the senate. as we speak, the secretary and deputies secretary positions are vacant within the va. although som same political appointees continue to collect paychecks. we are seeing nonpartisan senior leaders and subject matter experts leave the va in unprecedented numbers. many are concerned that the sound policies and ideas are being increasingly marginalized at the expense of politics.
we are seeing va implement reform after reform in a manner that's. [inaudible] receiving political interest groups given a seat at the table. we are seeing va leadership none of whom have been confirmed/out at anyone seeking true transparency in the last couple of weeks the va has attacked news outlets is big news. they claim that the inspector general is his subordinate which could be further from the truth. i hope that you agree that this type of behavior undermines the va's mission and does a disservice to the millions of veterans who rely upon the services. i hope everyone at the va was watching last week when the senate voted 96 to zero to reaffirm the independence of aig. federal agencies can be
trusted to police themselves. taxpayers need to know the not above the law. so robert i need to know you are the guy who understands the va has larger challenges ahead and i think you do. it simply cannot get afford to be weighed down. veterans are counting on them and it needs to be done with more transparency than you, ability act. they provide ample time to roll out the acting electronic it done right. if it doesn't happen the buck stops with you. congress and veterans will hold you accountable and i think you understand that. i'm already concerned the department is as ready as it should for this monumental undertaking. for example, the va is supposed to be contracting care networks to help facilitate veterans access to community care. those dates have been pushed back multiple times. i'm concerned about that and i hope you are too. will also be coming on you to
ensure care inside the va is assessable and of the highest quality. congress provides the va with tool after tool to carry out the mission. far too often the va has failed to properly utilize the tools. this needs to change. i believe you're a straight shooter and i believe we've confirmed, when confronted with the decision about what best for veterans you act with the best of intentions. the question is how that will be influenced by the others. sooner or later you will come to a crossroads with these folks. that's what happened to david chilton.
my only advice is to take the cues from the veterans, the folks sitting in this audience. i want you to succeed. i really want you to succeed. leading this nation's largest healthcare system is no small task in it demands the very best. i look forward to our discussion today and once again i want to thank you for your willingness to serve. >> i will now introduce tom tillis for the purpose of introducing our nominee after which i will administer the oath and he will have his testimony. >> thank you, mr. chairman. ranking members, distinguished members of the committee, i am
proud to introduce my friend and colleague 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 i worked for him. his commendation of knowledge, humility and heart has endeared him to my staff and scores of constituents. many of them are veterans and service members. robert was born in frankfurt germany. he was the son of an army artillery officer. he literally grew up on fort bragg and he lived most of his early life on fort bragg or in fayetteville north carolina. he received his ba, his jd from loyola college of law his master of law from georgetown university and his masters in strategic studies from the united states or army war college. robert is an intelligence officer in the united states air force reserves.
previously he served in the atlantic intelligence command and joint forces intelligence command and he also served in the united states navy. he has long been regarded in washington and held in high regard especially here on capitol hill where he has developed close relationships with members on both sides of the aisle. he's also forged an excellent working relationship with the committee and the committee staff and he is universally recognized as a team player and a mentor. throughout his distinguished career in public service he has also been a trusted advisor to some of the nation's most respected leaders including condoleezza rice, robert gates, donald rumsfeld and secretary mattis. frankly, given his depth of experience i was pleasantly surprised to have robert accept a position with the newly sworn in freshman senator. it was clear to me from the start he was destined to serve.
he was nominated for the under secretary of defense. he demonstrated his extraordinary skill in just a few short months. it was no surprise to me that the administration identified him as the perfect fit to become the secretary of the va. when he was appointed to the acting role to be va secretary, he quickly worked to improve around earning strong reviews and trust for members of congress and the va staff. he moved to execute the health record project which we all know is part of the va transformation and he successfully pushed through the mission not to the finish line. robert has all the education and 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 the personal experiences as the son of a gravely wounded soldier and a servicemember himself. he is literally lived the experience. i know he will bring his professional experience in his personal insight and an intensity to the role that will serve our veterans well. thank you, mr. chairman. >> thank you, senator tell us. will you please rise robert? raise your right hand and affirm your pledge. do you swear or affirm 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. please introduce your lovely wife julie so everyone can get an eye on her. >> thank you. my wife julie is behind me. we have known each other since we were youngsters growing up in fayetteville and as you know she has a very strong
georgia connection. her grandmother was from georgi georgia, but just as in 2006 and 2017, she is with me and nothing that i would have achieved would've been possible without her. mr. chairman, distinguished members of the committee on veterans affairs, this is the third time i have appeared in the confirmation share. i mentioned how long have no 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. every day on our way to and from high school we would see a sign outside the veterans hospital that says that the price of freedom is visible
here. i am humbled today not only by the confidence placed in me by the president of united states and the support of our veterans service organizations, but to be introduced by senator tell us. having grown up in the military world, he exemplifies what all of us from that world strive to be and that is servant leader. as the senator said i've been privileged to experience military life from many angles. as the son of a gravely wounded combat soldier, as an officer and a senior leader in the pentagon and cleaning leaving the reform of the defense health agency, and for eight weeks as the acting secretary of the department of veterans affairs. my modest military service was inspired by my ancestors. i walked the field of shiloh with my great-grandfather. as a young captain of field artillery he witnessed thousands parish in a matter
of minutes in 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 expensive war. mr. chairman, as senator tell us noted my life changed when my father returned from his second comment to her in vietnam. i was seven years old. we received word he had been wounded. he came home after a year in army hospitals. he weighed less than half he did when he left. i watched the agonizing recovery and that experience was on my mind when i was asked to come to va. as acting secretary, i visited five va hospitals in eight week weeks, met with the combined leadership of va components, benefits, health and cemeteries and visited our claim center in baltimore.
it was clear to me that the veteran population is changing faster than we realize. 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 women. the new generation is computer savvy and demands 21st century service that is quick, diverse and close to home. for the va to thrive in an integrated healthcare network it must be agile but more importantly as i mentioned to senator sanders and our meeting last week, i experienced what can and will never be duplicated in the private sector. that is the communal aspect of va. what does that mean? it means that when our veterans walk into any va facility they converse with men and women who speak a unique language of military service. what are the priorities?
first, improve the culture. offer offer world-class customer service print second, improve access to care through implementation of the mission act and modernization such as electronic health records. reduce the backlog of lanes and payment, and finally, business transformation including reform of our human resources system. mr. chairman, when an american veteran comes to va it is not up to him to employ how a team of lawyers to get va to say yes. it is up to the a to get the better and to yes and that is customer service. many of the issues i encountered as acting secretary did not reflect the quality of medical care but getting them through the door to reach that care. those problems are demonstrated and bureaucratic.
that is where va must go. the new electronic health record system is the first step to modernize va and it modernizes our appointment system. it's also the template to get us started on the road to automate disability claims and our payment claims particularly to our providers and rule america and those who administer emergency care. more importantly, in operability of the new electronic health record system will connect va to the dod, private doctors and private pharmacies to create a continuum of care and organized healthcare around the veterans needs. this is also our opportunity to turn the corner and be an industry leader on opioid abuse, intervention and suicide prevention. this transformation to standardize our 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 to our veterans. this means reforming human resources to give those same people more leeway to manage their budgets and recruit and relocate the staff they need to serve veterans. transformation also means entering into more robust partnerships with our state and local communities to address veteran homelessness that particularly plagues are vietnam veterans who also suffer the highest rate of suicide. we are also pledged to help veterans transition to a new life in education and nonmilitary careers. if confirmed, i will leverage the partnership with labor, small business and defense to carry out this pledge. a secretary mattis said when this congress passed a
700 billion-dollar defense budget there are no more excuses. you have infused va with a $200 billion budget. you have passed the accountability act, shook up complacency and pass the mission act to bring community care and caregivers closer together. the future now is up to the department. i would like to take the opportunity to close with a charge from president eisenhower. five months after his inauguration, about 40 korean war veterans climbed aboard the presidential yacht about 2 miles from where we were sitting. many of those veterans are missing limbs, some were horribly disfigured. when i arrived at the pier, the secret service ran up the plane to separate the president from his troops. seeing that, eisenhower yelled halt, i know these men. the agents are treated and the soldiers gathered around. they asked to address the
meta- tension and those who could did but he said there was nothing that the country could do for them to compensate what they had given to america, but he also said you never put your uniform away. you have to get well to remind your countrymen every day that freedom is never free. mr. chairman, that is why va must succeed. it is to remind americans everyday that freedom is not free. mr. chairman, i think you and look forward to the questions. >> congratulations on your nominations. thank you for an outstanding statement. as i read it the night before last before i met with you yesterday, i thought about what a compelling statement it was and how appropriate it was for the challenges we face. i want to repeat here what i told you and that's there needs to. [inaudible] you are getting an agency that has had its problems and
represents the promises we've made to those who have served and risked their lives for our country. an agency in need of help in the we are all proud of the need to be proud of. we have done everything we could in the past year end a half from accountability to coal increases to everything in the world we could do to make the va respond to the questions they have had. you have mention the $200 million fusion. 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 right and be the wind at your back and have your back and see to it that our veterans get what they fought for and risked their lives for an american people see us to reward them with the type of service they should be given. that's my one admonition. whatever phone number you got,
i'm on duty 247 when it comes to the va. if you have a problem you call us because we want to fix it and not wait for it to fester red when you say customer service to veteran, tell me what customer service to veteran means to you. >> customer service means that before the veteran walks into the door of the va he is already been greeted with schedulers and medical professionals and americans were ready to serve him. i noted that in some of the debates this committee had, the greatest problem you all saw was actually getting the veteran through the door. i have no doubt va provides some of the finest care in america, but i also understand that getting to that care is something that the leadership of the veterans affairs department has to focus in on like a laser beam. a world-class customer service is the key.
that ties in to something that you and i talked about in your office and that goes to human resource management. the first people are better and contacts are usually schedulers. the va has a hard time keeping those schedulers. they train them and then they often leave but i do believe it's incumbent on the secretary of the va. they have long discussions with the office of personnel management to make sure the secretary and those who work with them have the ability to adjust pay scales so people at the ground level when a veteran comes is treated respectfully and stay in that job and learn what it means to talk to that. >> mr. wilkie, as you know senator sullivan, senator rounds, senator bozeman, senator chester and other
members of this committee represent states where our veterans are long distance away from our va facilities. sometimes a full day's drive. as you may know in the debate on the mission bill and in the markups, choice program that works to make these healthcare services available to the veteran is key to the argument that debate. we work as hard as you can and tell us what you plan to do to see to it that choice is a reality in the time an appointment is good and the problem we've had with veterans not being able to reach the services they deserve and they are. >> yes or. >> and this goes to something that we talked about, and i will say that those of us from the east, even in the 21st century, do not understand the scale of the american west. in montana a normal journey will sometimes take 600 miles
round-trip to get to the va facility. choice means giving those veterans and their family care diverse the opportunity to engage with va anytime of the day and also with the development of the community care networks which will provide them access to services that va can provide. va services that will be close to home so that the burden is not on them to get to ba. the problems with choice were such that because it was so rapidly implemented, particularly in rural america, our providers were not being paid. not only the small-town doctors, but the small community hospital. that's where veterans go to get emergency care. if we do not automate that system and make it part of an integrated community care network we will have failed
veterans but in particular those veterans who live in our large estates geographically. >> senator tester. >> thank you chairman. thank you for being here mr. wilkie. when you agreed to take this job, were there any conditions attached? >> moser. will you have the economy to be able to point your own deputies to carry out your vision at the va. >> yes. >> are you empowered to do what you believe is best for the veterans, even if it's in disagreement with the president. >> yes, sir. as senator tillis noted, i have been privileged to work for some of the high-powered people in this town. doctor rice, doctor gates, secretary rumsfeld and general mattis or they pay me for my opinions and i give them to them or i would not be working. >> as i mentioned in my
treatment the acting director directed the inspector general to act as a subordinate but i can go through his direct quote, but do you think that is appropriate? >> the inspector general, coming from the military life, the inspector general is an integral part of any military operation. i'm not familiar since i left va with all the particulars, but the ig is a partner and is not subordinate to the secretary. because of the work this committee has done they have three prongs of an and enforcement tool. my vision is that those three
offices work symbiotically. ba suffered with places like phoenix because the ig office at that time was not as diligent as it should be and i lost the train on that. >> you do not 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 . . 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 v.a. has come up with what appears on the face simple way of addressing this and bringing down opioid addiction. tan that is with alternative therapies. the use of advil, tylenol, and
aspirin in place of tylenol 3 or other opioids. the other thing that v.a. has done is emphasize rehabilitative care, motion care. dod is just getting on the cusp of that. so, yes, i think dod is moving in the direction that v.a. has moved in. and it's absolutely vital that we stop it there. >> yes, sir. and my final question is going to be, since 1998 the v.a.'s budget has quadrupled from $42.38 billion to $188.65 billion. a the lo of these factors can be pointed to the vietnam veterans are getting older. the fact that combat medicine improved and therefore v.a. is dealing with more complex injuries and illness than ever before. cost of health care in the united states has become more expensive. and we've expanded. and i say that we have expanded
with good intentions. a lot of benefits. people are going to ask, you know, are we making sure we get our best service and best care for our veterans with the bucks we're spending. so my question would be, what steps do you plan to take to ensure both the high quality services are available for our veterans and families, but are also looking out for the american taxpayers that make sure we're spending their money wisely and giving the care that's needed. >> yes, sir. i'll start by saying there aren't any more excuses because of the infusion of money that this committee has given. i do believe, though, that we do have to make sure that the world class health services, the priority health services, are fully funded. i was asked a question -- two questions by two members of this committee. to the point that does v.a.'s expansion into community care mean that world class services like spinal cord, traumatic
brain are going to diminish. no. we will go where the need is greatest. >> thank you. >> thank you, senator manchin. senator heller. >> mr. chairman, thank you. and to the ranking member also, thank you for this meeting and mr. wilkie, thank you for taking time and to your family that's here today with you. >> thank you. >> i appreciate you being here, and willing to spend time with us. you were in my office yesterday. we had a great conversation. i appreciate that time also. but i think today is a different opportunity. yesterday it was about you and me. today it's about the veterans that are behind you. the veterans service organizations that are represented and also the veterans back in the state of nevada. and the point, of course, is to prove that you're ready to manage an agency of this size that is, in my opinion, quite a bit of bureaucracy. i told you yesterday, we have about 300,000 veterans in the state of nevada. good men and women, patriotic,
we'll take the call again, regardless of age to serve and defend this country. and i'm just pleased we both have come to the same conclusion that they deserve the best quality care and benefits that our nation has to offer. but saying that, there's a lot to be done. we need v.a. doctors, as has been mentioned several times. clearly it's a national issue. i'm working to get a veterans rural cemetery. our program care in las vegas and v.a. nursing facility in reno need improvement. and unfortunately, the veterans suicide issues remain quite a challenge in nevada. several times, as i mentioned, doctor shortages have been raised. but i think nevada has really felt the impact, especially in our urban areas like las vegas and even in our rural areas like elko, gardnerville. let me give an example. 2016, i was at the ribbon-cutting of a v.a. clinic.
and with all the pomp and circumstances, and here we are in 2018 and they still don't have a full-time doctor. to 2016, two years later, all the pomp and circumstance, they have been waiting for years to get it done, the work by my office, myself, this committee, this congress, to get that clinic into that town, and they still don't have -- two years later, they still don't have a full-time doctor. can i get your commitment to work with me to get a full-time doctor into that clinic by the end of the year? >> absolutely. i will work with you on that. >> we have problems in some of our rural areas with access to mental health services for our veterans. can you share with me how you plan on bringing more doctors or mental health professionals to these rural areas in nevada? . >> yes, sir. a and i thank you for the time you took with me.
i think we have to take a deeper look at how we bring doctors into v.a. there have been many things that the federal government has tried on -- in terms of recruiting doctors. and i think v.a. has to look at those. we have to do a better job of recruiting doctors coming out of the military. i'd like to learn about how we can get commitments from doctors to work to the v.a. and this is my opinion. i have not cleared it with anyone. and in exchange for their service with v.a., do we go down the road where we take care of their medical school loans in exchange for long-term service with v.a. 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 blessing that i have is that i've been learning a lot about these things from carolyn clancy, who is running vha now, and i know she's -- she's hard at work trying to address rural need, in particular. >> i'll follow up with you. time is running out. but one of the things -- i want to kind of steal from senator sullivan and his request. and that is that the nevada veterans have been in this v.a. system for decades. they know the ins and outs. they know the dos and don'ts. and frankly, they know how to fight for their care. can i be allowed to make the same request that i can get you out to nevada so that you could spend some time with our veterans in a round table to discuss issues that are important to them?
. >> yes, sir. i would be honored to. >> and one more question. and this is about agent orange. i hear from a lot of nevada veterans on this particular topic, especially from our blue water navy veterans. as you know, the v.a. doesn't provide these blue water veterans the disability benefits they deserve. after being exposed and experiencing these harmful effects. i think we can agree that this isn't right. how do you plan on helping the blue water veterans, as well as the veterans exposed to agent orange? >> well, i'll speak to agent orange first. i'm from the generation who saw the effects of that on those who have 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 is my understanding that the issue will be taken up by the senate, and i stand ready to answer any questions or go down
any avenue that this committee wants in terms of how we address blue water. >> mr. wilkie, thank you. and to the chairman, thank you for the time. >> thank you, senator heller. senator brown. >> thank you very much, mr. chairman. >> last but not least. >> thank you very much for saying that, mr. chairman. thank you, mr. wilkie. i enjoyed very much our conversation. and wish you well through this process. >> thank you. >> and i expect you to be confirmed and then as the new v.a. secretary. yesterday the "washington post" ran a story about your time as a staffer for a very divisive, a very racially divisive senator. you've been appointed to this job by a very racially divisive president. just yes or no questions. will you commit to doing that? >> absolutely. >> thank you. i've worked with two previous secretaries to establish a
history research, national heritage center at the dayton vamc. will you commit to implementing the existing moa on this important project, yes or no? >> i do and i look forward to going to dayton. and as you and i said, i just -- it's my geek mode. i just finished reading a biography of one of ohio's great presidents, and learned that dayton has been the center for v.a. care for well over 140 years. >> good. thank you. thank you for saying that. we've heard reports vha cannot account for medical equipment. can you commit to getting my office information on the missing equipment >> yes, sir. >> thank you. i have grave concerns regarding privatizing veterans health care and at times community care is necessary, which is why we pass the v.a. mission act. however, v.a. should not siphon funding off from vha to expand community care. will you commit to fully fund vha and stop efforts to privatize the v.a.? >> i am opposed to the
privatization of the veterans' affairs department. and will continue to make sure that vha is fully funded. >> thank you. pro public and politico have reported the bulk of 1700 employees fired since the passage of last year's accountability bill had been low-level employees with limited offenses, not senior employees with egregious events which is how the v.a. said it would use authority. this gives me great concern. will you commit to me you will not use this authority to go after whistleblowers or individuals with limited offenses? >> absolutely, sir. >> thank you. i worked on the provision in the v.a. mission act to increase v.a. vacancy transparency. will you commit publicly to post -- will you commit to publicly post vacancy data? >> yes. >> thank you. do you believe the v.a. has an obligation to provide medical care and disability compensation for veterans who have been exposed to toxic chemicals while serving our country? >> yes. >> thank you. and will you increase
transparency with congress on the department's position on agent orange presumptive conditions on blue water navy veterans eligibility for benefits and establish a process to diagnose constrictive bronchitis. >> yes, and transparency is key with this committee and with the country. and i know when my time with senator tillis, he had me working on the first efforts to raise the issue of burn pits. >> good. and thank you. and i enjoyed our conversation, as i said, the other day, and appreciated the work that when senator tillis and i co sponsored so many bills together, i appreciated the work that you did with he and i in my office. thank you both of you. >> thank you. >> thank you, senator brown. senator tillis. >> thank you, mr. chairman. and mr. chairman, i first want to thank you and ranking member tester, because you a couple of
years ago encouraged and endorsed what became a regular meeting with the leaders of the v.a. to track their progress. and i specifically want to thank ranking member tester for always being there at every single meeting over the course of that process with the two secretaries. and mr. wilkie, i hope that we have your commitment to continue that discussion, because i think it was very helpful. >> yes, sir. >> mr. wilkie, i wanted to ask you something. i had the -- i'm not going to say the name of the newspaper, but i'm going to have the -- the person that was reporting a story called me up. i spent probably 15 minutes, maybe as much as 20 minutes, on the phone with him to talk about you. somehow that insight was -- and much of your recent work history was not at all reported. mr. chair, without objection, i would like to submit an article that actually provides context that was written back in i
believe 2002 that provides context for a statement that was asserted in the "washington post." i think it was out of context. >> without objection. >> something else i wanted to ask you. and this may require you -- you've got an incredible sense of history and great memory. it was a vote recommendation in the nda a couple of years ago, and at that time you were my senior adviser. and the specific amendment was related to providing same-sex spouses with veterans and social security benefits. do you recall how you recommended i vote on that? . >> yes, sir. i recommended that you vote yes. >> and how did i end up voting? >> you voted yes. >> thank you for that recommendation. there was also a reference -- i know senator murray was going to submit questions for the record, but i think it would be helpful here for some members who may not see that. i think you already brought up your role as a floor manager, and the question on equal pay.
but there was another reference to the confederate flag. i don't know exactly how senator hrono framed it. maybe the broader context around the confederate flag? . >> yes, sir. the article mentioned participation in events. there were three events. two sanctioned by the department of the army and department of defense, and one by the speaker of the house. those events in those days were big events. participation by senate and the house members. i -- at the last one, the only thing i did was introduce a fellow named ron maxwell, who is the producer of the famous movie "gettysburg." and i thanked president obama for his support of an event that
celebrated america's veterans, both union and confederate. president obama brought -- had a wreath delivered by the old guard of the army. the broader issue of the flag to address with the "washington post" said, i stopped doing many of those things at the time when the issue became divisive. and i do, though, believe, and i will say it, and i heard it on memorial day at this capitol at the memorial day concert. i think it was garycy niece who pointed out that 150 years ago in the first decoration day, the most ferocious warrior in the union army, a guy named william tecumseh sherman said what this committee is now responsible for. we honor all veterans, and he ordered flowers and wreaths placed on the graves of both
union and confederate soldiers. so my last statement on that is i think they have the last word. and that we celebrate veterans. >> thank you. you mentioned condoleezza rice, gates, rumsfeld and mattis, and said that if you had, in fact, had any history of the sorts of behaviors that this article put forth, you would be working for them. is there any doubt that -- i believe you had any history of that behavior you would have worked for me? >> absolutely no doubt, sir. >> you're going to do a great job as secretary. i was -- leaned over to mike rounds and said i've got to make sure that i let him know that -- enjoy the honeymoon, because the floggings will begin soon >> yes, sir. >> we need to make sure that we get you in there, you act decisively and you have a sense of priority and bring the resources in that will allow you to accelerate some of the transformation initiatives that you were briefed on.
i should mention every one of those meetings that senator tester and i had over the past few years also included mr. wilkie. so you've got a keen insight into what works, and what we need to accelerate. i know you have a commitment, and you're going to brit intensity that's necessary and been lacking for quite some time. so i look forward to working with you in your new capacity. and i wish you very well. >> thank you very much. >> thank you, mr. chair. >> senator, we have a couple more questions for you, if you have the patience and the time. i'll have a few and so does senator tester. one, i'd like you to tell me, in your position -- as undersecretary of the army, what made your accomplishments as undersecretary are you proudest of, as undersecretary of defense. and how did that experience prepare you for what you're about to take on at the veterans administration? >> thank you, sir. first of all, i'm extraordinarily proud that someone of secretary mattis' stature asked me to serve with him. i'm very proud that the office
of undersecretary of defense for personnel readiness is now a place where many people want to work. i mentioned walking the post and transformative leadership in that vein, and i think that has begun to happen. in terms of accomplishments, employing the exceptional family member program for the 132,000 military families who have children with exceptional needs, autism, mental health issues, cerebral palsy, et cetera. getting in train 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 health administration. and the sexual harassment and assault policy, which sends a clear message that the military of the united states has changed, that everyone who signs up for service deserves dignity and protection. and finally, to show how p & r
has moved, the secretary of defense has empowered my office to take charge of what he considers to be his most important project. and that is the close combat task force. that is the task force that takes the very deep look into how we train, equip and fight our front line forces, our infantry forces, where 85 to 90% of the casualties take place. coming from secretary mattis, there is probably no greater assignment than anyone could have, and i'm honored that he gave me the responsibility to help him on that. >> you acknowledged in your testimony earlier in your speech that you had been surprised how many people at the v.a. had told you they had never seen the secretary in that part of the building before. >> yes, sir. >> i can tell you one of the first things i did when i was -- became chairman of the committee is go visit the v.a. here and go on the floors. i found the same thing.
they had never seen a member of congress either over there. and i don't think much changed to improve that. of all the problems we have, morale at the v.a. may be the biggie biggest single problem. you and i have talked about the morale change when pompeo went over there. senator tester and i are here to back you up. anything you can do on the morale issue, we are looking forward to helping you do and improve the morale of the agency. >> thank you, sir. >> lastly, i would like to ask unanimous consent. i guess as chairman, i can grant. to submit for the record signed by eight members of the military retired, a former joint chief of staff, former deputy joint chief of staff and six major flag officers of the united states military all in glowing endorsement of your position as secretary of the veterans administration. i submit this for the record without objection. >> thank you, mr. chairman. >> senator tester. >> thank you, mr. chairman. once again, thank you for being here today. mr. wilkie, electronic medical
records have been talked about a bit. and i would just say that i'm encouraged the v.a. has purchased -- you know what the goal is. but i have concerns about how the v.a. is communicating its plans to congress for this modernization. it has a price tag of $16 billion. and we have a ton of leadership, vacancies, it's going to impact this moving forward, at least, i believe. for example, there's no permanent deputy secretary, no undersecretary for health, no deputy undersecretary, no assistant secretary for oit, and no deputy in oit. so the question is, who do people on this committee hold accountable for this program, other than yourself? >> well, that's where it -- that's the be all and end all. coming from my world, there's -- i think admiral nimitz was the one who said if you can't point to the man in charge, nobody is
in charge. so that's me. i pledge to the committee that i will move as rapidly as i can, if confirmed, to get those people in place. i mentioned dr. carolyn clancy as the executive in charge of vha. 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. >> so do you have folks in mind right now? >> i don't have a list, sir. i've got to be honest with you. in the eight weeks -- >> that's perfectly fine. i just -- you know, the chairman and i talked about doing an oversight hearing. man, that's really tough to do an oversight hearing on the v.a. right now, because there is nobody to hold accountable. and you need to have some oversight, quite frankly. i think you would appreciate it. there was a situation that happened, it's probably over a year ago, where folks were told
not to respond to requests made by -- it's never been a problem on this committee, and it's never been a problem with previous leadership. i've still got to ask it. if you're asked for information or you're going to be as transparent as you possibly can to give that information to anybody on this committee who -- or anybody in the senate, for that matter? >> absolutely, sir. i was raised in this institution, and i take article 1 seriously. >> okay. when it comes to foyer requests, there's a couple ways to handle it. people can either turn over the information or they can slow roll it. if confirmed, will you require that political employees comply with any freedom of information act in a timely manner? >> i will demand that they comply with the law and with requests. >> okay.
ay carumba. plume that wi blumenthal is coming, so you know. and he ain't waiting much longer. the chairman just told me. i just -- i'll give you my closing statement right now, okay? you've gotten pretty good at this. confirmation -- i don't know how many times you've been in front of a committee to be confirmed, but you ain't a rookie. you not only answered questions, but you anticipated questions as good as anybody i've ever seen in front of a senate committee. not that i've been here all that long. 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 it will be a public flogging, but you will be held accountable. and i don't -- i think that's our job, to make sure that things are moving.
we're here representing veterans, because that's who we take our cues from, too. and so it's going to be really important that we have a strong leader. you've got a lot of challenges in front of you. and i would just say that i think you've got the tools to do the job. and i don't think it's going to be easy, and i think there will be rough waters on occasion. but in the end, i think if there is good communication between you and the members of this committee, particularly the chairman and myself, i think we can smooth a lot of those rough waters. >> and i thank you for your courtesy to me. >> thank you, senator tester. and senator tester, if you would inform senator blumenthal that we will leave -- i'll ask the nominee in the next 48 hours if senator blumenthal gets you his questions for the record, would
you respond as quickly as possible so he gets those, and we'll be in the process of moving a confirmation vote. so the quicker you get those answered, the better off. if you would let him know to do that, i would appreciate it. >> absolutely, sir. >> you're lucky you married a great lady. you know that. she sat there the whole time, she's had your back the whole time. i want to thank everyone -- our vsos. you've been a part of this process from the beginning. and to the members of the committee, i thank them for the insightful questions, endurance of time they have spent here and all they have done to help make this successful. we've all got each other's back. we're going to make the united states of america better than it's ever been before with a new secretary, mr. wilkie. we stand adjourned.
deputy attorney general rod rosenstein and fbi director christopher wray are expected to testify this morning before the house judiciary committee on the justice department inspector general's report focused on the clinton e-mail investigation. they are expected to review the findings of actions taken by the agencies back in 2016. this is the first time that mr. rosenstein will be answering questions about that report, and the house is expected to vote this morning on a resolution ordering him to furnish documents related to the investigation. director wray was on capitol hill last week. he appeared before the senate judiciary committee answering questions about this same
incident. in october of 2017, the house judiciary and oversight committees announced their joint investigation into decisions made by the justice department on this matter. should let you know, there's a chance the hearing could be interrupted early on as the house is expected to hold votes this morning. you see deputy attorney general rod rosenstein there walking into the hearing room. so because of those house votes, there could be a delay in the start of the hearing. by the way, you can watch the house vote on our companion network, c-span.