Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie acknowledged on Wednesday that his agency got a bad deal in paying nearly $2 billion in fees to companies responsible for booking veterans with private doctors.
“The department, I admit, was taken advantage of because of the hasty nature that took place when the program was put together,” Wilkie testified at a joint hearing of the House and Senate veterans committees.
Wilkie was responding to lawmakers’ questions about an investigation published this week by ProPublica and PolitiFact into the Veterans Choice Program. The program, which began in 2014, was supposed to give veterans a way around long waits in the VA. But veterans using the Choice Program still had to wait longer than allowed by law. And according to ProPublica and PolitiFact’s analysis of VA data, the two companies hired to run the program took almost $2 billion in fees, or about 24 percent of the companies’ total program expenses.
Wilkie avoided blaming the companies directly, and he instead faulted Congress for giving the VA only three months to launch the program. Asked by Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, to specify who took advantage of the VA, he said, “We were forced to take what we could get to implement a law based on the timeline created by that act.”