U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin visited the Miami VA Healthcare System on Friday, less than a month after he was unanimously confirmed to lead the Veterans Affairs Department in February.
He is the only member of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet to have served in the Obama administration, having previously spent 18 months as undersecretary for health in charge of the sprawling VA medical system, which serves 9 million veterans a year.
The 57-year-old internist and longtime healthcare executive is the first non-veteran to serve as VA secretary. Shulkin was president and CEO of New York City-based Beth Israel Medical Center from 2005 to 2009 and he supports integrating the VA system with private-sector healthcare.
With a $75.2 billion annual budget, the VA manages veterans benefit programs and operates the largest integrated healthcare system in the nation, including nearly 1,300 VA medical centers. The Miami VA Healthcare System is among Florida’s busiest, serving about 58,000 patients a year, with an annual budget of $537 million and about 2,800 employees.
Among Shulkin’s first acts as secretary was to offer urgent mental-health care beginning this summer to thousands of veterans with less-than-honorable discharges, part of a broader effort to stem a high rate of suicide among former service members.
Following confirmation, Shulkin publicly outlined his priorities for the department. His goals include passing the new accountability legislation and extending the Choice Program that allows veterans to see doctors and hospitals outside of the federally run system.
Questions and Shulkin’s responses have been edited for context and length.
Photo credit: Roberto Koltun, el Nuevo Herald