By Cara Rinkoff

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is stronger than ever before, and is working hard for all veterans. This is just one part of the message delivered by VA Secretary Robert Wilkie when he addressed members of the Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A. during its National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting on February 14 in Arlington, Virginia.

Wilkie told JWV that ensuring the strength of his department is how he can thank veterans for their service and sacrifice to the country. “We have the highest patient satisfaction rates in our history. 90 percent of our veterans are completly satisfied with the services they get at VA. It is our eternal promise that the promise given to Americans veterans by Mr. Lincoln be kept. That we shall care for those who have borne the battle,” Wilkie added.
The Secretary also talked about privatization concerns. He noted that, “only in Washington, D.C., would a $240 billion budget be cause for concern about privatization.” This budget is the second largest of any agency in the federal government, second only to the Department of Defense.

Norman Rosenshein, Secretary Wilkie, Harvey Weiner (Photograph by Lou Michaels)

Wilkie said the new Mission Act will allow veterans to receive services from the private sector without the need to privatize the VA. He said another benefit of the new law is that veterans are eligible for coverage of their urgent care visits.

Wilkie said he thinks electronic health records will be online in late spring or summer. He hopes these records will keep track of medical history “the minute that young American walks into the military processing station to the minute that American is handed over to the VA.”

By the end of March, Wilkie hopes the VA will present a report to the country about veteran suicide. He said it is time for a national conversation to begin about this important topic. “The United States Army started taking statistics on veteran suicide, on Army suicide, during the administration of Benjamin Harrison in 1892. And yet, we have never had a national conversation about what it means when warriors come back,” Wilkie noted. He added that until there is a national conversation, all investigations of veteran suicide will amount to are more federal reports that no one will read.
Wilkie said he also wanted to bring JWV a message from President Donald Trump in regards to anti-Semitism. Wilkie said Trump is the most forceful opponent of anti-Semitism and added, “I stand with him in standing up for the rights of those of you in this audience, but more importantly for the human rights that we as Americans have to defend every day.”

Wilkie concluded his 20 minute speech by telling JWV, “As long as I am in this office you all have what the British would say, first dibs on me, whatever you need.”

While Wilkie had to leave early to attend a meeting at the White House and did not have time to answer questions from members after his speech, he arrived early in order to greet members individually and take time to pose for pictures.

Volume 74. Number 1. 2020