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Irked with failure of VA's Choice program, Coffman wants change at top

March 10, 2018 Updated: March 11, 2018 at 11:36 am
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FILE - In this Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016 file photo, U.S. Congressman Mike Coffman, R-Colo., makes a point during a debate with his opponent for Colorado's 6th Congressional District seat, Democrat Morgan Carroll, at a Spanish language television station in Denver. Coffman, one of the few swing district Republican representatives in the country, will be holding a town hall meeting with constituents on Wednesday, April 12, 2017. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, file)

Ongoing Veterans Affairs debacles, including the failure of the Choice program that's supposed to give veterans easy access to private care, have led Colorado's U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman to call for the firing of Secretary David Shulkin.

Calling Shulkin a representative of VA's past wrongdoing, Coffman sent a letter to the White House last month that demanded his firing. But Coffman, of Aurora, so far doesn't have much company. "Democrats want him to stay because he really doesn't support the Choice program and some Republicans think he hasn't done enough bad things," he said.

The Choice program, reauthorized and expanded by Congress last year, was supposed to give veterans access to private-sector care, cutting VA wait times and giving veterans more flexibility and convenience.

But in Colorado Springs, VA patients are now waiting more than six weeks for appointments, according to VA data. Coffman says the agency has thrown up barriers for Choice patients, scuttling its promise of short waits and quality care.

And a little more than a year into a presidency that promised to revolutionize the long-troubled VA, President Donald Trump is facing similar issues with the agency to those faced by the last two administrations.

"I just think the kind of bureaucratic incompetence behind the VA just continues," Coffman said.

Shulkin came under fire this year after a report from VA's internal watchdog found he's taken a federally-funded junket to Europe and a staffer lied about it to get past internal controls.

The news of the trip, though, isn't what bothers Coffman the most. He said he's worried because Shulkin has done little to fix problems including the ones that led to a $1 billion cost overrun to build the Denver VA hospital.

The agency also pledged to fix patient waiting times at the Floyd K. Lindstrom Clinic in Colorado Springs, which have consistently run well over the agency's 30-day target, but hasn't come up with a solution. Last year, the VA's internal watchdog slammed the Colorado Springs clinic for falsifying waiting times to make them appear shorter.

That report found that among PTSD patients, nine out of 10 had phony wait times recorded at the Fillmore Street clinic.

"I don't think Secretary Shulkin is capable of leading change at the VA," Coffman said.

But Shulkin, who served as undersecretary of the agency under the Obama administration, has so far maintained backing from the Trump White House and his programs got a nod in the January State of the Union address.

"I will not stop until our veterans are properly taken care of, which has been my promise to them from the very beginning of this great journey," Trump pledged.

Coffman said he's worried that the administration is blind to the deep issues at the agency.

"The sooner they come to that conclusion the better off they will be," Coffman said. "This president will never realize his campaign promises with Shulkin at the head of VA."

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Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240

Twitter: @xroederx

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