By Shaun Boyd
AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) – The new acting deputy secretary of the Veterans Administration says the VA health care system is “out of whack” and they’re making big changes.
Scott Blackburn is second in command of the second largest federal agency, an agency President Donald Trump once called the most corrupt and incompetent in the federal government; assailing it for among other things long wait times to see doctors. Yet, Trump’s hiring freeze will mean thousands of open positions will go unfilled.
In an exclusive interview with CBS4, Blackburn, who is a veteran himself, promised the hiring freeze will not impact health care for veterans.
“We’re not going to harm veterans’ services, health care particularly. If there’s positions on the front line that need to be exempted, we’re going to find them and we’re going to exempt those,” Blackburn told CBS4 Political Specialist Shaun Boyd.
He contends the agency can, and will, be streamlined.
“One of the things we’re going through the exercise right now is maybe the VA doesn’t have to do everything themselves,” Blackburn said.
He says there will be more community partnerships and an overhaul of a program that allows veterans to get care from private sector doctors.
“To give veterans more choice so that they can get care at the VA or community. We just want them to get the best care they possibly can get. One of the things also we want to do is instill a mindset of competition. We want veterans to choose the VA.”
He promises Veterans in Colorado will be able to get their care at a new hospital by this time next year.
Blackburn visited the construction site for the hospital in Aurora that’s more than a billion dollars over budget. He says it’s 90 percent complete.
“I know there’s been a long history in there but I think the bottom line is veterans will finally have a facility that is worthy of their service and their sacrifices to the nation and that’s long overdue in this area.”
The VA is one of the few federal agencies to see an increase in President Trump’s proposed budget. Blackburn says if approved, the funding will help modernize antiquated computer systems that have contributed to long wait times for care and a backlog in disability claims.
He says they are making progress.
According to Blackburn, as of December veterans have been able to get same-day appointments for primary care at all VA health care facilities.