There is plenty of blame to go around when it comes to the problems and scandals faced by the Department of Veterans Affairs in recent years, but the Trump administration is committed to making the VA "a place all of us are proud of," VA Secretary David Shulkin said Friday.
"I think the basic lessons are that our demand for services did not match our capacity," Shulkin told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program. "This was a cultural problem in the VA that our leaders in the field didn't feel comfortable to speak up and say they weren't getting the right resources."
Senators earlier this month reached the bipartisan VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 to give Shulkin additional authority to discipline or fire employees, while shortening appeal times for employees who have been charged with poor performance or misconduct.
The secretary said Friday that the agency is committed to meeting its mission to serve veterans, but the VA is a "very, very large system, and it's been years of bureaucracy and red tape that's grown one year after another."
The VA has been facing scandal since 2014, when it was revealed that fake waiting lists were under use at several facilities in the agency's network, and Shulkin said Friday the public was "absolutely outraged, and that was an appropriate response."
"We've now focused on veterans that need care right away," said Shulkin, including people who have urgent care needs.
"There are some veterans waiting for routine care needs 30 days or longer," said Shulkin. "If you're waiting for a routine physical exam, that doesn't bother me as much as any veteran that needs to wait for urgent care. We're not going to allow that."
Shulkin said the VA is working closely with the new American Innovation Office, headed by Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, and others in the White House, as well as with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
He also said he does have "one clinical priority, and the only one that I have," and that is to reduce suicides among veterans.
"I think it's a crisis right now that's happening not only among veterans, but among all Americans," said Shulkin. "We're hiring more mental health professionals. We're getting our telehealth out to areas of the country where there aren't mental health professionals so that veterans can get access to some of the best care."
Shulkin said he's also recently announced a new policy change that will extend mental health services to people who have been dishonorably discharged.
"When we look at the suicides, it's higher among those that are homeless, and those that don't have access other than those honorably discharged," he said.
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