Jan 19 2009 -
Senator Ready to Work with Gen. Shinseki to Address Critical Veterans’ Issues
Last week, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held the confirmation hearing for President-elect Obama’s selection to head the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Gen. Eric Shinseki. As a member of the committee, I had the opportunity to speak with Gen. Shinseki, both at the hearing and during a recent meeting in my Washington office.
As the former Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army and the recipient of two Purple Heart medals in Vietnam, Gen. Shinseki has a firm grasp of the challenges facing the VA and the skills to transform the agency into a 21st Century organization that better serves our veterans.
IMPROVING VETERANS’ CARE
In my conversations with Gen. Shinseki, I have made sure he is aware of the challenges I see facing the veterans in Mississippi and across the country. I have stressed to him the importance of maintaining the standard of care our men and women deserve as they transition from active duty to the VA, as well as the importance of implementing innovative approaches to increasing quality of care. During his testimony, I was glad to hear Gen. Shinseki pledge that, if confirmed, he will quickly finalize and articulate a concise strategy to transform the VA into an organization that works toward meeting those goals.
I also urged Gen. Shinseki to work diligently to alleviate the backlog of cases currently impacting the VA and the care of so many veterans. As I discussed with the general, one thing that could assist greatly in this effort is the creation of an interoperable electronic medical records sharing system between the VA and the Department of Defense. As someone who has close ties to the Defense Department, Gen. Shinseki should be uniquely positioned to help bring such a system to fruition.
GREEN HOUSE MODEL
Additionally, I shared with the general my desire to see the VA implement a new concept known as the “Green House Model” into VA nursing homes. The Green House concept, pioneered in Tupelo, is unique in that it puts small groups of six to 10 nursing home residents together in a separate home and asks them to participate in the day-to-day decision-making that directly impacts their quality of life. This concept has yet to be used by the government, but I believe it represents the kind of innovative, modern approach we should be taking to provide better care for our veterans.
As the son of a World War II veteran – and as a veteran myself – I know firsthand the importance of putting in place the right leadership to handle the challenges facing the VA. Now more than ever, the VA needs an experienced and innovative leader to transform it into a more responsive and effective department that provides the needed care for today’s veterans and tomorrow’s. I believe Gen. Shinseki is the right person for this job.