December 09, 2021

Manchin Questions Veterans Affairs Nominee on West Virginia Rural Broadband Expansion, Employee Recruitment and Retention

Video of Senator Manchin during Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Hearing can be found here
Washington, DC – Yesterday, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (SVAC), questioned Kurt DelBene, nominee for Assistant for Information and Technology of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Senator Manchin questioned Mr. DelBene on how the VA can support broadband expansion in West Virginia and the recruitment and retention of skilled employees for VA technology jobs.
Senator Manchin works tirelessly to expand broadband access for every West Virginian. He questioned Mr. DelBene on ensuring Veterans have access to telehealth, including audio-only telehealth options. Many West Virginian Veterans living in rural communities rely on audio-only telehealth appointments due to lack of reliable, affordable broadband access.
Senator Manchin said in part, “Mr. DelBene, I appreciate you being here and appreciate you are willing to serve at this capacity. In your pre-hearing questions, you acknowledge the need to expand broadband to Veterans in rural areas. I come from West Virginia, my entire state is rural. I don't have one city larger than 50,000... But basically, we are rural and Veterans in rural areas need the broadband access that they have in urban areas. But to receive VA healthcare benefits, we couldn't even do telehealth, we had to do audio-only telehealth… I would ask if confirmed how you would balance expanding initiatives like telehealth, while also ensuring that rural Veterans have access to broadband?”
Senator Manchin is working to update the incorrect broadband coverage maps used to distribute federal broadband funding to states. He submitted over 2,400 speed tests from West Virginians to the FCC that prove the maps are incorrect. Senator Manchin successfully tied broadband funding in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to updated FCC maps. Senator Manchin questioned Mr. DelBene on how the VA could support updating the FCC maps to deploy broadband to more rural Veterans.
“The FCC maps have been horrible. They show coverage, but there's no coverage…They show large swaths of America that are covered when they actually are not…We have been trying to correct those and you all at the VA could be invaluable in helping correct those maps,” Senator Manchin continued.
Senator Manchin also questioned Mr. DelBene on the VA’s plan to recruit and retain the employee talent that is required to implement and maintain the numerous VA IT systems.
Senator Manchin continued, “So you're gonna have the opportunity to bring the VA into the technology world… we need that desperately, we really do. In VA hospitals they are in need of quality people and personnel. So whether it be cybersecurity, whether it be nurses, whether it be doctors…it's difficult for government agents to keep up with the private sector and competing for the people needed in those high value jobs. So I guess I would ask, what is your plan and goal to recruit and retain the talent that is going to be needed to implement and maintain the VA’s many IT sectors?”
A video of Senator Manchin’s statement during the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee can be found here.