Shulkin stresses 'lot of work to do' to fix beleaguered VA


WASHINGTON-Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said Wednesday he is open to the use of medicinal marijuana to prevent suicide among veterans if the issue is properly studied and Congress approves.

"Our veterans and their families have benefited from our early success", Shulkin said, "but have suffered due to the failures of the past to affect real change".

The VA has done much to improve access and cut wait times, but wait times for primary care mental health appointments are still at 60 days or more at 30 facilities.

"We now have 1,500 disciplinary actions that are pending, meaning people that either need to be fired, demoted (or) suspended without pay for violating our core values", Shulkin told reporters.

Trump's budget proposal calls for a 3.7 percent increase in total VA funding.

Shulkin pushed for new Veterans Affairs accountability legislation during the briefing, saying that current rules make it hard for his department to fire employees who break the rules, including the fact that the VA had to wait more than a month to fire someone who was caught watching pornography while helping a veteran.

At a White House briefing, Shulkin said the department must wait at least a month under current law before it can discipline an employee for misconduct or poor performance.

To cover rising costs, the VA would cap the amount of educational benefits veterans could receive under the GI bill and halt "individual unemployability" benefit payments to out-of-work disabled veterans once they reach age 62.

Thanks to Congress, VA physicians in states where marijuana is legal are allowed to discuss the option with patients, but are not allowed to recommend or prescribe the drug.

Shulkin then stepped in with his opinion as a physician and said there was evidence that medical marijuana could be effective, but more research is needed. Veterans' groups worry the Trump administration is seeking to expand Choice to the detriment of core VA programs. It comes at a critical time.

Shulkin urged the Senate to pass legislation to make it easier to dismiss employees.

On Monday, the AP reported the government was opening dozens of new investigations into possible opioid and drug theft from veterans' care facilities by VA employees.

Putting the oft-behind the scenes Shulkin on-camera also stopped the White House from making Trump available on Wednesday.