Secretary of Veterans Affairs, the Honorable Robert L. Wilkie, visited the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System Sept. 20 to meet with hospital administrators, speak with Veterans and employees, and talk about the way forward for the VA.
Since being sworn in, July 30, the new VA secretary has visited sites across the nation to learn and assure both veterans and VA employees that his focus is on ensuring the department has the resources necessary to provide veterans the care and benefits they’ve earned.
“In five weeks in office, this is the 10th hospital I’ve been to,” Wilkie said. “Part of my job, is getting outside of the nation’s capital, walking the post, listening, and trying to learn as much as I can so I can be a better advocate for our veterans and employees.”
During his inaugural visit, Wilkie remarked on the positive things he saw — both within the VA and the Southern Nevada military and Veterans community as a whole. “Here in Las Vegas we see what the VA will become,” the secretary said. “The growth here is astounding. More than 1,000 veterans come in to our VA facilities for care here every day. We also have a relationship between the VA and Nellis Air Force Base and I believe it’s a model for the future as we need to be better joined at the hip with the Department of Defense. [The community] is also moving forward with getting a new medical school here, which I think is the other prong of the VA’s future — being tied to academic and research institutions.”
While at the North Las Vegas VA Medical Center, Wilkie visited a prosthetics laboratory and wheelchair repair, and also had the opportunity to tour a Mobile Vet Center. He also met with several veterans, including Red Coat Ambassadors as well as state and local veterans service leaders. “What I saw are volunteers who are excited to be here,” the secretary said. “That’s an unsung part of the VA experience … Veterans want to be around people who speak their language. And it’s a unique language … It’s the language of service.”
Since taking office, one of Wilkie’s most important objectives is ensuring that each veteran’s visit is a positive experience. “When a veteran comes to the VA, nine times out of 10, he or she is very happy with the care,” he said. “What I emphasize is importance of every encounter or experience, which really is customer service.”
Part of improving the experience comes with funding and the secretary’s trip is part of a two-day visit that will see President Donald J. Trump sign the 2019 Veteran Affairs appropriation.
“It’s the largest bill in the history of the VA, but it also reflects a change in the direction of the department,” Wilkie said, adding that one of the biggest changes within the VA going forward will involve an expansion of stipends for family home care. “We recognize family caregivers as the coming trend in health,” he said. “The greatest number of veterans in this area are from the Vietnam era …and for those who served prior to May 7, 1975, this provides their families with stipends to provide care at home for their veterans.”
As an Air Force officer, Wilkie wrapped up his visit stating that he appreciates the dedication of America’s service members. “I am soldier’s son. My military service, compared to my ancestors’, is modest. But being a part of an organization of folks whose very existence ensures that their fellow citizens sleep soundly at night is as great an honor as I can have. I am proud to be part of America’s obligation to those who have sacrificed so much.”