Talking Points: David LaCerte – Secretary, Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs

Gov. Bobby Jindal in June elevated David LaCerte from deputy secretary to secretary of the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs. LaCerte replaces former Congressman Rodney Alexander, who stepped down after less than a year. While LaCerte, a former Marine Corps infantryman, does not supervise the federal Veterans Affairs system, he does hold strong opinions about what the scandal-plagued VA must do to establish trust with veterans and the rest of the American people.

Sadly, a large percentage of my time these days is spent trying to convince people that I do not work for the federal government. LDVA operates parish service offices that help veterans navigate the VA system. We helped Louisiana veterans receive nearly $1.1 billion last year alone.

While the federal government provides the primary care for veterans, the state is responsible for the long-term care. LDVA operates five war veterans homes. Our budget for next fiscal year is about $59.2 million, of which $5.7 million comes from the state; almost $37 million comes from the feds, and the rest is self-generated.

VA faces allegations of gross mismanagement and fraud throughout its health care system. This comes on the heels of years of backlogs in the VA benefits division, failures to provide timely health services, and continued high rates of homelessness among veterans.

President Obama and former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki have said care to our veterans outside of the traditional VA system is an important release valve for the congested and inefficient VA health care system. Unfortunately, VA has either mismanaged or underutilized this vital tool by accumulating a nearly two-year payment backlog. Simply put, VA has a reputation for not paying its bills. The new VA secretary would do well to develop a true opt-out feature for all veterans who wish to use this option.

VA should seek more public-private partnerships. A side effect of today’s VA scandal may be that many of our veterans will never again seek care through the VA system. By developing partnerships with nonprofits, outside care providers, and state and local governments, the VA can find ways to serve their mission.

The new VA secretary should establish transparent lines of communication with veterans, officials and the public at large. Acknowledging that the trust has been broken, and making a genuine effort to regain that trust, is key. I still don’t believe we’re getting a true picture of what our veterans deal with on a daily basis. When we request information, we get a polished PR piece instead of real facts and transparency.

History has never seen anything like the bureaucracy that we see at the VA today. The problems are among the most serious in the history of our country. The background of Bob McDonald—the former chairman of Procter & Gamble and Obama’s nominee to replace Shinseki—is promising, but at the same time, we’ve been burned before.

Condensed from LaCerte’s presentation to the Baton Rouge Press Club, with additional information from LDVA and public sources.

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