NORFOLK, Va. (WVEC)- Making progress, but still a long way to go. That's the diagnosis of President Trump's point man for veterans issues.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, a physician by trade, pronounces the V.A. as being in critical condition.
"Well I was outraged, I couldn't believe that this was the best we could do for our veterans." he said in an interview with 13News Now.
Shulkin was talking about his reaction to the news in 2014, and in the years since, of long waiting times for America's 21.8 million military veterans to get medical care at the V.A.
He wasn't happy then and he wasn't happy this March, when a V.A. inspector general's report showed that long wait times persist, and in some facilities, like Hampton, there was manipulation of the wait time data.
According to the audit, the Hampton V.A. reported new patients had an average wait time of 11 days for an appointment. However, the report found the average wait time was in fact 23 days, which is 68 percent higher.
"Data manipulation is unacceptable," Shulkin said. "And when we find anybody involved in that we're going to remove them from their jobs at the V.A. and they're going to leave the service of the V.A."
Shulkin, on the job six months and speaking Wednesday before the "AmVets" National Conference in Norfolk, said new systems have been put in place to prevent such manipulation by the department's 360,000 employees.
It's all part of what he described as the largest transformation and modernization in the recent history of the 96-year-old agency, but he admits it won't be easy.
"I think realistically," he said. "The V.A. has a lot of problems right now, and I describe it as being critical condition. And that means, we have to intensely monitor the organization. But I believe we're moving in the right direction. I'm optimistic we can get there."
Shulkin when asked, what gives him that confidence, said "Well, first of all, I know we have a President who feels strongly about this and is going to support making these changes, and I do believe that when I look at the men and women who serve in the V.A., they want to be doing a better job and they believe very much in this mission."
Shulkin says he expects what he calls "real progress" within the next year. He hopes to set a path forward so that the progress will continue "for decades to come."