MESSAGE FROM VA Secretary Robert Wilkie – “Fact check” inaccuracies in a recent news article


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I want to call attention to several inaccuracies in a recent media “fact check” article that claimed the Trump administration is taking credit for progress made under the Obama administration.

This unfortunate piece went out of its way to misinterpret President Trump and my own words. Worse, it gets basic facts wrong in a way that could create a disincentive for Veterans to seek care at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

We should all be encouraging our Veterans to use our hospitals and clinics, but pieces such as these paint an incorrect picture of the VA that runs the risk of discouraging Veterans from using the benefits they have earned.

For example:

1. The piece criticized President Trump for saying, “we passed VA choice and VA accountability,” and for saying people have been “trying to pass these things for 45 years.” AP concluded Trump was “wrong” because “Trump is not the first president in 45 years to get Congress to pass Veterans Choice.”

The President knows what he was talking about, even if the AP doesn’t. In 2018, President Trump signed into law the MISSION Act, which gives VA the ability to implement the best practices we’ve learned in our nearly 75 years of experience offering community care. It consolidates VA’s community care efforts into a single, simple-to-use program that puts Veterans at the center of their VA health care decisions.

He wasn’t referring to the Veterans Choice Act, which became law under the Obama administration and created a narrow, temporary choice program that wasn’t seen by anyone as a final answer. Either through neglect or willful ignorance, the AP quoted the President as referring to “VA Choice,” with a capital C, as if he meant that Obama-era bill, but he was referring to the concept of choice as defined in the MISSION Act.

Also, the piece conveniently leaves out the fact that President Trump signed the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017, one of the most significant changes to civil service laws since the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 was passed more than four decades ago.

2. Along the way to making that flawed argument, the AP misinterpreted a statement made by the VA’s top health official, Dr. Richard Stone, who said implementation of the MISSION Act should “almost be a non-event.” The AP took that line out of context and imagined it to mean that few Veterans will choose care outside the VA because wait times are longer in the private sector, in an apparent effort to dismiss the value of the law the President signed.

That’s news to Dr. Stone. We checked with him, and he said his “non-event” comment referred to the idea that implementation of the MISSION Act would not create any technical problems that would interrupt Veterans’ efforts to seek care at the VA. He made the comment in Senate testimony in March, after being asked whether the MISSION Act would create any drastic changes to how Veterans interact with their VA providers.

3. The piece said the “key to the Choice program’s success is an overhaul of the VA’s electronic medical records,” which will take up to 10 years. It also said I have estimated that full implementation of the “expanded Choice program” is still years away.

This is pure conjecture on the part of AP, plus it’s wrong.

The Choice program will actually cease to exist on June 6, as the MISSION Act will create a new program that consolidates all of VA’s community care programs, including Choice. The AP’s “fact checkers” seem unaware of this crucial fact.

Also, while electronic health records modernization is an important improvement, it’s not central to the success of the MISSION Act. No one from the VA has ever said implementation of the new private care option Veterans will have under the MISSION Act is “years” away because of our effort to modernize health records.

4. The AP quoted me saying I took steps to make sure Veterans are at the center of their health care decisions, and connected that quote to another one in which I said, “One of the things that we’re doing at VA is that we have same-day mental health service.”

But in the Fox News interview, those two comments happened about six minutes apart from each other. The AP ignored the back and forth of the interview for that long and misleadingly made it appear as if this was a single, related thought.

5. Finally, the piece quoted me saying that my effort to put dedicated leaders in our VA hospitals and clinics helped reduce VA wait times, as seen in a Journal of the American Medical Association study.

The AP is correct: that study measured wait times up until 2017, before my tenure. VA is seeing enough signs of improvement that it’s easy to confuse data sources under the hot lights of a TV set.

What I should have said was, we have our own internal data showing that wait times are continuing to improve since President Trump took office.

Our own data show the VA has completed more than 1.2 million more appointments through May 21 in FY 2019 compared to the same period the prior year, a sign our success in hiring more medical staff is bearing fruit for our Veterans.

Wait times for new primary and mental health care appointments have also fallen since President Trump took office.

Any one of us, including me, is capable of speaking imprecisely at times. But it’s another thing entirely when “fact checkers” do it themselves.

Author

Media Relations

The Office of Media Relations serves as the interface with news media representatives from newspapers and electronic media for the Department. OMR arranges interviews, provides press releases and answers media queries.

Comments

  1. J D Cannon    

    If you are to improve the “concept” of healthcare, start by not using Vets as a political football. Communication is key when you are dealing wit Vet lives and “misspeaking” leaves room for misinterpretation. Instead of apologizing and moving on, you used this platform to push blame for your own speaking error. No one really cares about the history of mistreatment when it is ongoing and continuous, but when the ball is in your hand you are responsible. So you are now responsible! Changes to processes before thy are worked through is never good. An Organization as large as the VA can not withstand massive overhauls with each new administration… that’s common sense, something that is lacking in the handling of VA healthcare. It’s easier for vets to use the money they get from compensation to pay for private insurance which seems like that is the goal of this administration all along. Vets are not a burden. We have served honorably and only expect dignified care in return.

  2. WILLIAM BUHLER    

    Bay Pines VHA is understaffed in the Veterans Community Care administration.
    When I checked on the status of my May 25 VA Community Care referral, I was informed that the referral is in the system that but they were currently processing referrals dated April 22. At least a 30 days wait for the referral to be acted on. And this is supposed to be the cure for access to medical care?
    W.B. Lee County Florida.

  3. Charles Fleenor    

    I’m glad you finally know what it’s like, the VA takes everything you say and twists it to mean whatever they need it to mean to fit the agenda, which lately for me it’s been to take away anything that they can twist words and turn them into a reason to take.

  4. Drew Emmett    

    Leave it to the Trump administration to turn the VA into a political football

    1. Johnnie Martin    

      Do you feel better now by bring politics into it? Find another forum to spew your hate in…

  5. Terry Penn    

    Choice with Tri-West was a disaster. Took them months to set up an appointment for a colonoscopy and endoscopy. I’m 100 miles from the Dallas VA. They set it up in Texarkana 80 miles away. Then Longview 50 miles away. Finally in Tyler 20 miles which I originally requested. Then they only paid half the bill. I got stuck with the other half. VA said I could appeal and ask for reimbursement.
    Next procedure I drove to Dallas VA and stayed overnight since they won’t release without a driver.
    VA Doctors said Choice had been problems from day one. Glad it’s gone.
    Hopefully this new program will be better. Personal opinion is it should be set up like Medicare. Go to any doctor or hospital willing to accept without the “mother may I” permission slip from the VA.

  6. fw    

    Somehow it seems i f VA would put time/effort in to fixing what alll is wrong with VA/Choice et al med care then doing administration propaganda, things would be a lot better for the vets. Real world is the medical program of any kind for VA is way to overloaded with to many people with hands on it, doing nothing but obstructing. Fix that not administration [propaganda. We all have moreissues then bone spurs to be treated.. For to long VA has been someones political organization, not the vets.

  7. Georgie Kelley    

    The Choice program is managed by TRIWEST. It is both good and bad. I get authorizations and make appointments or they make appointments…. good…. getting them to pay for authorized services …. not so good. Customer service is bad …. once they put a person in place that I could communicate with directly over e-mail and send them the wvidence things improved but is not perfect. Choice Champions SUCK! They never call back in a timely manner.. two weeks to a month is not timely. When they do call back it is all platitudes and no actions!

  8. Michael T Youngblood    

    How about removing the division between veterans that served boots on the ground and those that weren’t chosen to go into combat, I myself volunteered for Vietnam but was never chosen. Does that make My service insignificant ??

    1. Kimberly Duff    

      I just got on board as a mental health provider. I have called Triwest and am waiting on a call back..where do I go to better understand the process for providers?

  9. Jm    

    I agree with Chanie, why is this on a VA site?

    The VA is supposed to be non-political and support Veterans first. Yet this reads like a bully that got their feelings hurt. Is that more important than putting Veterans first? This is just sad.

  10. Ford Greene    

    Thank you for this information! It has become very difficult to get true factual reporting in any format!!! When did it become opinion reporting versus report the facts!!

    Again, Thank You!!

Comments are closed.