(Photo by Clay Lomneth)

Roe: 'VA isn't going anywhere'

Very early into his address to Legionnaires attending the Feb. 27 Washington Conference Commander’s Call, House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Chairman Phil Roe made it very clear how he felt about Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin.

Shulkin, who recently received criticism for taxpayer-funded travel with his wife and has been embattled within his own department, has Roe in his corner.

“Secretary Shulkin has done a phenomenal job,” said Roe, a member of American Legion Post 24 in Johnson City, Tenn. “I want to tell you all I’ll walk hand in hand and arm in arm with Secretary Shulkin.”

Roe said that Congress has continued to fund VA at a high level – an indicator, he said, of a resistance to privatize it. “VA isn’t going anywhere,” he said. “But we do need to take steps to ensure the department is focused on their mission and using resources wisely.

“That’s why I proposed legislation to provide a comprehensive, non-partisan view of VA’s assets. I’m so grateful to have the support of The American Legion for this important bill.”

Roe does believe veterans should have some say in where they receive their health care. “VA cannot be everywhere and everything for every veteran,” he said. “And we know we have a lot of veterans in rural areas. As we continue to explore options to improve VA’s community care program, our focus will be to preserve VA’s role as the central coordinator of care for enrolled veterans while increasing their options for care and simultaneously investing in a stronger VA.”

A hard look needs to be made at VA’s information technology systems, Roe said, “from delivering timely care to veterans, to ensuring that medical records follow the patient.” And Roe pledged he would work as hard as possible to ensure that veterans have timely access to care.

“You deserve for us to keep our promises,” Roe said. “There is much work to do, but I know that together, we can make a difference.”

Roe praised the Legion for its advocacy, especially in the past year. He specifically noted passage of appeals modernization legislation. “There are over 400,000 veterans waiting to hear back from the VA about their appeal,” he said. “This bill will help speed up that process. We now have a duty to make sure that the department implements this important legislation in a way that truly benefits veterans, and I know the Legion will be just as active in our oversight as they were in getting the appeals modernization bill over the finish line.”

Prior to his speech, Roe was presented with The American Legion’s Distinguished Public Service Award for being “the tip of the spear in terms of making 2017 an incredible and historic year for veterans legislation,” American Legion National Commander Denise H. Rohan said. “From passing accountability at VA to modernizing the appeals process, creating and passing the Colmery GI Bill, and even The American Legion coin bill, Dr. Roe has lead quite the distinguished public service career.”