National Press Club

VA secretary vows to improve efforts to help active duty military transition to veterans status

November 11, 2018 | By Ken Dalecki | kdalecki@hotmail.com

Describing the mission of his department, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said, “We exist to provide America’s veterans with the means to remind their fellow citizens why the sleep soundly at night, and that is why it is such an honor for me to be a part of that team."

Describing the mission of his department, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said, “We exist to provide America’s veterans with the means to remind their fellow citizens why the sleep soundly at night, and that is why it is such an honor for me to be a part of that team."

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie told a National Press Club luncheon audience Friday that he does not expect the upcoming change in control of the U.S. House of Representatives from the Republicans to Democrats to affect efforts to improve services for more than 20 million veterans receiving VA health care benefits.

Speaking on the eve of Veterans Day and the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I on Nov. 11, Wilkie said his department enjoys bipartisan support that has resulted in a record-high budget and legislation that makes possible greater accountability for VA employees and management flexibility. Wilkie, the former Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness at the Department of Defense, was confirmed by the Senate in July 30 with an 86 to 9 vote.

Wilkie said Congress is likely to sustain high funding for the VA despite a 5% budget cut proposed by President Trump for most federal agencies.

He vowed to increase coordination between the VA and DoD to improve the transition of active duty personnel to veterans status, including educating soldiers on the signs of post traumatic stress and recruiting exiting DoD doctors and nurses to work for the VA.

His other goals include using electronic medical record keeping to improve services and help combat opioid addiction by alerting the VA when non-VA doctors prescribe opioids for VA patients; adopting modern business models for finance, purchasing and training, and more vigorous outreach to find veterans in need for VA services.

Wilkie addressed recent controversy over the VA's use of dogs in medical experiment, saying he would continue the program "as long as it is effective."

"I'm going to do everything that is ethical to help our veterans," he said, citing breakthroughs in heart treatment and liver transplants assisted by canine experiments. He noted that thousands of dogs are euthanized every day in the United States, while 92 are involved in VA studies.

A native of North Carolina and son of a Vietnam combat veteran, Wilkie was joined at the head table by former Transportation Secretary and North Carolinian Elizabeth Dole.