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Friday, December 14, 2007

Senate Confirms James Peake to Head VA

First up, from the Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report:

The Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee on Thursday voted 15-0 to approve retired Army Lt. Gen. James Peake, President Bush's nominee for Department of Veterans Affairs secretary, CQ Today reports. [The full Senate voted today to confirm Peake].

Peake on Thursday answered several post-hearing questions from committee members. In response to a question by Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) about what he wanted to achieve during his term, Peake said he will focus on improving treatment for veterans with mental health issues, adding, "The issue of (post-traumatic stress disorder) is an important one, as is the issue of (traumatic brain injury). We must get the best of science to help us with the way we deal with our veterans."

Peake also said he would consider automatic acceptance of claims for PTSD by veterans with records that prove symptoms of the disorder. In addition, he said he would launch a probe into a claim by committee Chair Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) that fewer than 50% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have been diagnosed with PTSD receive VA disability benefits.

In educational interest, article(s) quoted from extensively.

From the Associated Press:

The Senate confirmed James Peake, a former Army Surgeon General, as Veterans Affairs secretary Friday.

Retired Lt. Gen. Peake, 63, the son of a medical services officer and Army nurse, has spent 40 years in military medicine. He retired from the Army in 2004 after being lead commander in several medical posts, including four years as Army Surgeon General. ...

Widely supported by both Democrats and Republicans, Peake has promised lawmakers that he would be an independent advocate for veterans and get needed funding for their care. The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee endorsed his nomination unanimously this week. The Senate confirmed Peake by unanimous consent. ...

The favorable vote came after Peake assured lawmakers that he would learn from past VA mistakes by placing more medical staff at VA clinics and budgeting better to meet the agency's needs. He also promised to find other ways to retain senior VA officials than awarding lucrative performance bonuses each year regardless of merit.

From the Air Force Times:

Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, the committee chairman, said the only serious questions about Peake, a former Army surgeon general who spent 39 years on active duty, involved his post-service employment by a company that held contracts to provide medical examinations and other services to VA.

“His answers were very good,” Akaka said. “I am completely satisfied.”

Peake promised to break all ties to QTC Management, where he had worked as chief medical officer and chief executive officer, and to also recuse himself from any VA issues that might involve the company.

At his Dec. 5 confirmation hearing, Peake said he had been with the company for less than a year. He also pledged to do whatever Congress felt was necessary to avoid a conflict of interest or the perception of one.

Peake said he would have “no ongoing financial interests” with the company, including no deferred compensation or any bonuses. And he also pledged he would not return to the company after serving as VA secretary if confirmed.

“I want no perception of any favoritism,” he said.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a veterans’ committee member who had been on the fence about Peake’s nomination, said there have been many complaints involving QTC.

“We have providers with poor English skills, evaluations that don’t focus on the problems that have been identified, absence of VA medical records, QTC billing for more time than the provider spends with the veterans,” she said.

“I believe General Peake’s heart is in the right place, but this job will take more than just promises,” Murray said. “He needs to work every day to overcome the bureaucratic ineptitude, backlog of claims, wait times, and other challenges that our veterans face every day.”

In the end, Murray voted to approve Peake’s nomination but said she would be watching closely as he leads VA.

President Bush's response to Peake's Senate confirmation:

I am pleased that the Senate unanimously confirmed Dr. James Peake to serve as Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Dr. Peake is a decorated veteran, highly-skilled physician, and proven leader who has devoted his career to serving America's men and women in uniform. His decades of expertise in combat medicine and health care management have provided him with a thorough understanding of the Department's responsibility to care for America's veterans.

One of his first tasks as Secretary will be to ensure that my Administration continues to swiftly implement the recommendations of the Dole-Shalala Commission on Wounded Warriors. I am confident that he will build upon our record of improving care, reducing bureaucracy, and ensuring that our veterans receive the benefits they deserve.

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