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Health Care

Veterans Affairs chief David Shulkin promises to turn VA into the department veterans 'deserve' and can take pride in

U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin talks to reporters in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House May 31, 2017 in Washington, DC.
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U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin talks to reporters in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House May 31, 2017 in Washington, DC.

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin on Wednesday detailed a wide array of problems plaguing his department — but vowed to "turn the VA into the organization veterans and families deserve, and one that Americans can take pride in."

Shulkin said that reducing backlogs of veterans waiting to get health care, addressing the high suicide rate among veterans, improving the quality of care and speeding up disability claim processing were all among his top priorities.

"Though we are are taking immediate and decisive steps, we are still in critical condition and require intensive care," said Shulkin at an extensive White House briefing.

He also said that President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence "are impatient and anxious for us to get on with this."

Trump has called for increasing funding for the VA in his budget proposal for fiscal 2018, unlike most other federal agencies.

"We are completely focused on what it's going to take to fix the VA, and there has not been any lack of response from the White House on any of these issues," Shulkin said after delivering what was billed as his first-ever "State of the VA Address."

Shulkin's department of nearly 300,000 employees, which has been buffeted by reports of long wait times for health care and drug thefts at facilities, was strongly criticized over the Memorial Day weekend by Republicans in the House of Representatives. The department provides health care to almost 9 million people.

"This is a day of remembrance and honoring those who paid the ultimate sacrifice," Rep. Jeff Denham of California said in a video.

"But for the last several years, far too often, we're spending time talking about the inadequacies of the VA," Denham said.

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