The Latest: Wilkie says private care needed to help VA

Johnny Isakson, Robert Wilkie
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on the Senate confirmation hearing for Robert Wilkie, the nominee to head the Department of Veterans Affairs (all times EDT):

2:30 p.m.

President Donald Trump’s pick to lead Veterans Affairs is promising to “shake up complacency” at the department and push changes to expand private care for veterans.

Robert Wilkie’s confirmation hearing before a Senate panel is set for Wednesday. In prepared testimony obtained by The Associated Press, the Pentagon undersecretary says the ranks of veterans are rapidly changing and more are in need of faster health care. He says that means veterans should see more private physicians when needed.

Still, Wilkie is making clear that private care is not a replacement to the government-run VA. He says the quality of care is high and VA offers something that “can never be duplicated” — doctors who fully understand battlefield injuries.

Democrats plan to question him on his views on privatizing VA. Trump has promised to steer more patients to the private sector.

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9:30 a.m.

Modest and low-key, Robert Wilkie was hastily dispatched to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs after a furious President Donald Trump fired Secretary David Shulkin amid political infighting at the department. But what was supposed to be a temporary job could turn permanent.

If confirmed as VA secretary, the long-time public official could end up steering some of the biggest changes to veterans’ health care in decades.

A significant test comes at his Senate hearing Wednesday, where Democrats plan to question the Air Force and Navy veteran on his views on privatizing the government’s second-largest department serving 9 million veterans. It’s an issue that Shulkin says led to his ouster.

In recent meetings, Wilkie has told several veterans’ groups and some lawmakers that he opposed “privatization.”

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