Wicker Opening Remarks at Secretary of Veterans Affairs Nomination Hearing

January 14, 2009

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, today delivered the following opening remarks at the confirmation hearing for Gen. Eric Shinseki, President-elect Obama’s designee for Secretary of Veterans Affairs:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you, Gen. Shinseki, for your service and for your willingness to serve again on behalf of the United States of America.  I learned this morning when we were shaking hands and visiting before the hearing convened that you have a distinguished record on the faculty at the United States Military Academy.  And I noticed that Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois was here to shake hands and enthusiastically greet you and wish you well.  He was an English student of yours at the academy, and I wanted it to be reflected in the record that Rep. Shimkus came over to offer his support from the other body.

By way of opening remarks, I wanted to thank you for coming by earlier and speaking to most us in our offices.  I read with interest your prepared testimony and I noticed that you outlined three general principles that you would be striving to achieve during your tour of duty in the Department of Veterans Affairs.  One would be that veterans would be the centerpiece - and you mentioned in that regard that the workforce in the VA would be standard setters in their field.  I very much applaud that.

Certainly, it’s reasonable to expect that the specifics and your specific program will come later, but I applaud that as a goal.  Secondly, you mentioned the timeliness and excellence of service by your department.  And the third general principle is to look for ways to do things smarter and more effectively and to use the world’s best practices.  I think that’s a very healthy beginning to setting principles, and I applaud our nominee for those today. 

I hope we employ those principles when it comes to two specific things that I mentioned to you earlier during our private conversation.  One would be with regard to veterans’ nursing homes - not only those run by the VA alone but also in partnership with various states.  We have close to 300 in both categories and there is a proposal to build two more veterans affairs nursing homes during ’09. 

There is a new concept in the area of nursing homes and it’s called the “green house” approach.  We haven’t used this approach in the government.  Basically, it strives to put groups of eight or 10 patients in a nursing home together in a pod or a separate building and asks them to participate in the decision making as to what sort of activities and what sort of food and other decisions they are capable of making even though they are housed in a nursing home. 

I’m a veteran myself, my father is a World War II veteran, and my son will soon enter the United States Air Force.  I’d like to think that if it ever came to the point where I had to go into a nursing home, I could go into the best, the most modern type of nursing home - one that exercises, as you said, doing things in the smartest way - exercises the best practices.

 I mentioned to you privately and I will mention to you publicly on the record that I hope in that regard that we can work together with this committee and the Congress to make sure that when it comes to our veterans, when it comes time for them to move into a nursing home should that be required, that they can move into the very best possible kind of nursing home care. 

I would also hope that we can use those three principles in the area of electronic medical records.  I believe it was the chairman who earlier mentioned the desire of this committee to have a seamless transfer from DOD to the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

Certainly, coming from DOD yourself and now moving into this new area of responsibility you are uniquely positioned to work in that regard.  But I know that if it were an easy task to have this seamless process of medical records moving from DOD to VA - when the time comes for our members to transition - if that were easy we would have already done that.  It’s difficult and we have asked the departments to do this.

I hope that the three principles that you outlined - of using the best practices in the world and excellence in service and being a standard setter - that with regard to electronic medical records and also veterans nursing home care - that we can be a standard setter.

I look forward to being your teammate in this regard, and I thank you and congratulate you on your nomination and your certain confirmation.