tv Veterans Affairs Secretary Wilkie White House Briefing CSPAN November 9, 2019 12:16pm-12:46pm EST
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on veterans day, watch c-span on tv, online, or listen using the free c-span radio app. secretaryffairs robert wilkie ahead of the veterans day holiday was asked about veterans health care, department accountability, suicide prevention efforts, and combating sexual assault in the military. mr. wilkie: hello, everybody. thank you all for coming. this is our week of weeks at the department of veterans affairs. this is the week that we honor the 41 million americans who have put on the uniform since the first shots were fired at lexington green in april of
1775. last night, the president held a ceremony with the national commanders of the veterans of foreign wars, and rolling thunder, to permanently honor s that haveand mia been lost to the history books since our first war in the 1700s. he ordered the flying of the p.o.w. and mia flag at all federal departments and agencies. that was an important first step on this veterans day 101 years after the end of the great war, and the president will be following that up with his attendance at the new york city veterans day parade, the first president to attend america's largest parade on monday. i'm here to talk a little bit v.a.t the state of our the
it is my honor to have been the secretary now for one year and three months. as general mattis used to say, i was born in khaki. this is the world i grew up in. this president was the first in the post-world war ii history to make veterans not only the centerpiece of his campaign but also the centerpiece of his administration. he has remained true to his commitments by authorizing us to present to congress the largest budget in the history of this 20 billion, $2 calling for 400,000 employees. we have come in the last year, achieved the highest patient satisfaction rates in the eight -- in v.a. history.
of american medicine have said in just the last year that v.a. health care is as good or better than any in the private sector and our wait times are comparable with the private sector. under president trump, our veterans are voting with their feet. this year we have already had 3 million more appointments at v.a. then we did last year. in veterans of foreign wars their annual survey said nine out of 10 of their millions of members are completely satisfied with the way v.a. takes care of them, and those nine out of 10 said they are recommending to their comrades that are not in v.a. to join with us. actave launched the mission that finally integrates v.a.
with the entire american health care system. presidentsthe promise, this puts veterans at the center of their health care decisions, not the institutional prerogatives of v.a. we give veterans the option of going into the private sector if v.a. cannot provide them the health care they need or if they a.ve too far away from a v. health care that would not be conducive to their needs. we have finally put our veterans on the same plane as their neighbors. america's veterans now have access to urgent care. we are keeping them out of the emergency room for things like the flu or a sprained ankle. sincest few months mission was kicked off on june 6, we have had 70,000 urgent care visits.
we are seeing about 5000 visits a week. we have certified its thousand urgent care facilities across america. 6000 urgent care -- cer tified 6000 urgent care facilities across america. the president has asked us to engage in fundamental forms that are less visible to the general public. next year we will be launching the electronic health record. for the first time, anyone who enters the military will have an electronic health care record that will be accessible to the v.a. once that young american leaves the service. for the first time we will prevent people like my father, who after 30 years of military service, from carting around an 800 page medical record, and we will have an entire history of service stateside
and overseas. we have reformed our supply chain. we have entered into an mru with the department of defense -- an mou with the department of defense to nationalize v.a.'s supply chain so we will no longer have stories of doctors running across the street to get equipment that they should have had to begin with. we are reforming our hr system. one of the things i discovered when i began service on august 1, i asked the fundamental military question of two senior leaders at our department, how many people do we have on the roles? i got two different answers. i asked for a manning document, a system of requirements and the number of people you need to meet those requirements. we now have a manning document.
in addition to that accountability, in this pres relievederm, we have duty at oyees of their v.a. if you do not live up to the standards of euros or the standards are veterans expect, you will be asked duty at v.a. to leave. this is a transformational moment in our history. we have relieved people as high directors to people at the other end of our employee chain. after the scandals of phoenix, the scandals of 2014 and 2015, this is one of the strongest statements that we can make that it is a new day at v.a. finally to other things about transformations. on the opioid front, we have not been immune to the crisis that has impacted the united states.
we have reduced the number of opioid prescriptions by 51%. offered alternative therapies that in my father's day with have been anathema to the e offered thos.native we tell soldiers to come in and try acupuncture, tai chi, yoga, music therapy. we are getting at the sources of the pain rather than treating with traditional opioid therapies. thos. we tellthe last thing is suicid. the u.s. army began taking statistics on suicide during the administration of benjamin harrison, who is only known for one thing. he was in between two non-successive terms of grover cleveland. harrison recognized there was a crisis in the frontier army. this is the first time we have
begun a national conversation about suicide prevention. 60% of those soldiers who take their lives on a daily basis are not in v.a. i will have a report where we bring together indian health, and the rest of the federal government to actually begin a national conversation on mental health and addiction. thatl conclude by saying we have never had a president who has given this much attention and this much effort to those who have borne the battle, and it is my honor to be part of their team. to veteransy spoke in florida, maryland, virginia,
d.c., they say the wait times are still horrendous at the hospitals and that the claims you make have not actually taken place. can you address the concerns of those v.a. members who say we have not made the strides forward you claim. ilkie: in an organization of 400,000, there will always be a hiccup in the system. one of the things the president has done by pushing mission is that when those wait times are overly long, we now give veterans the option of going into the private sector to make sure that those wait times are not a burden on that veteran, and just in the last few months, we have sent well over one million veterans into the private sector when we have not met those wait times. there are always going to be hiccups in an organization this large. i come from that world. i understand it. i think mission is the great
step forward when it comes to addressing the kinds of concerns you have heard. yes, sir. frequently over 65 times as of last april claims choice signed the v.a. program, which has existed since 2016 when it was signed into law under president obama. have you advised the president that this claim is not correct and that the program has been around its before the was elected? >> what he said is he has superseded choice. replaced, act that we we replaced it because it was not working. he has given choice -- i just gave the statistics. over one million since june 6. the choices that program was created under his administration. he has done it many times. it is not true.
andmission act did update improve, but the program existed since 2014.i am asking if you have advised the president that claiming v.a. choice was graded during his administration was not true. >> i only go by what the president has done since the one year i have been selected. choice has been replaced by mission, and mission is working in a way that i think has astounded most people in washington. mr., in a court settlement yesterday, the president acknowledged that $2.8 million that were supposed to go to veterans during the campaign actually went to the trump campaign. what is your reaction? >> i have no reaction to that. >> i think -- >> i think the president's
record speaks for itself. there has never been a president who has given this much attention to america's veterans were allowed for more allow for more transformation to go on in the lives of veterans than this president. they saw aagon says record number of suicide rates among active-duty. can you speak to specifically how urgent of a problem is that for you, and how are you going to address that? sec. wilkie: in my previous life i was secretary -- the military culture, as you imply in your question, has always been one where you don't talk about these things. you don't talk about what you see in yourself or your comrade. we began changing this by offering education as early as boot camp to look at the signs that you might see in training, in your career.
we have to begin talking about the condition of our troops, and we have to begin training, which we are, at the department of defense level, so that by the time those americans come to had they will have already the cadence of mental health us.ussion before they reach it is a cultural change that needs to take place. i will say one other thing to that. to me it is also a strategic imperative. in my father's day, he thought twice in vietnam. if he had expressed any concerns, any anxiety, that would have been a one-way ticket out of the service. it was also a one-way ticket out because people knew there were 10,000 draftees ready to fill that position. we don't have that luxury with
the all volunteer force. we have to do a better job of taking care of our warriors when they enter the service. >> what is the timeline? sec. wilkie: it should be in march. government, the whole health approach, a roadmap on national suicide. i will also say that i think the greatest contribution that v.a. can make is that most americans at some level understand what happens when an american puts on a uniform. we are seeing suicide levels spike across the country. the new york times just reported on a 56% increase in teen suicides. largestcides is the cause of death among teenage americans. the new york police department is having a crisis. i think we can offer a way forward. what i hope to see out of this other than the medical roadmap is we open the aperture when it comes to support for the states
and localities and charities to help us find those veterans that we have not contacted. senators aren't stand cap sent you a letter concerning sexual assault in the v.a. do acknowledge this is an ongoing problem and what are you doing to fix it? sec. wilkie: we are working on changing the culture. i addressed the center for women's veterans yesterday. we had extensive training for all of our employees. this is not my grandfather's v.a. areof those who use v.a. women. i expect that to go to 19% to 20% by 2025. we have women's clinic. most facilities have separate entrances for women. if anyone, veteran or employee, does something untoward, certainly the employee is
disciplined, but the veteran is removed and put on warning that you are not going to be allowed back if you engage in that type of behavior. we are working feverishly on expanding services to sexualictims of military trauma. we are working with the department of defense. again, i go back to cultural changes taking place in this country, certainly in the military, and i think we are doing a good job of catching up with that. we have a zero-tolerance policy, and i stand by that. >> the measures you have implemented, sorry, i just want to follow up -- sec. wilkie: training. we have training for all of our employees. in our v.a. hospitals we have notices. we talked to the veterans. our employees are trained to intervene if someone does something like a cat call.
which can be disquieting. it is disquieting to some of our female veterans. we are changing that culture. the other thing i would say is in some of the instances in that move vigorously to prosecute. the one they referenced about d.c., within minutes of me hearing about that i contacted the deputy attorney general. i think that is another forceful way of handling things like that. >> the v.a. hasn't come clean and the last few years to remove people hurting the yurok receipt. i am wondering, do you envision more changes coming to personnel, another cleaning of the house? how do you keep accountability intact, whether it be administration or position changes? sec. wilkie: cultural change. making sure that the standards are known by everyone. we are undergoing a
transformation and overhaul of our office of accountability and whistleblower protection. tend -- i intend to make that more robust. i think, though, the message we send out, because the story when i first came was that we were only firing custodians. when network directors are removed, i think that sends a powerful message up and down the chain of command that everyone is held to those exacting standards. i expect that particularly as v.a. has moved in an incredibly positive direction that those standards and those practices will be maintained. >> people are being -- sec. wilkie: sure. we do that on a daily basis. the cancer rate has jumped over the last two decades of war.
[indiscernible] the v.a. is still denying their claims. [indiscernible] sec. wilkie: you have to go back to see what our burn pit process is. right now it's with the department of defense. the department of defense has responsibility. i have had conversations with advocates like general petraeus about this. we don't experience what my father's generation experienced. that was the decades long wait after we knew people were exposed to agent orange. i'm waiting on dod and i think they will give it to me shortly. the results of all of their investigations into what went on in iraq and afghanistan. i would also note that what i have approved is separate and category. a burn pit
if we have any veteran who has any of the medical issues that could come from burn pit exposure we see them on that basis. i think we have seen about 50,000. misdiagnoses are a huge factor in the number of veterans dying from cancer because the v.a. catches it too late. what additional expertise will the v.a. higher to approve its cancer care for veterans? improve its cancer care for veterans? sec. wilkie: we work collaboratively with the most important cancer research institutions in the country. we have partnerships with md anderson, with stanford, duke, harvard, all the great hospitals in boston. we believe, and i think the
statistics show, we are on the cutting edge of cancer research. we are not divorced from many of the issues that impact america at large. there is a shortage of this country not only of cancer providers, but of mental health providers. we are trying to be as creative as we can to bring more people in those categories to us. >> some veterans still have to wait three years to get their hearings resolved. what are you doing about that backlog? sec. wilkie: we are already going thanks to this president the massive appeals to modernization program. we had hundreds of thousands of appeals on backlog from the last administration. we are now down to tens of thousands. we have added employees to that will stop we have actually done what hasn't been done.
-- we have added employees to that. beenve done what hasn't done. we computerized. we are in the middle of completely computerizing that system. i expect that those numbers that have gone from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands will be even smaller in the next few years. yes, sir. >> there is a disproportionate number of national guard and not previously deployed. is this a population that needs more? sec. wilkie: of the 20 who take i thinkves every day, one, perhaps as many as two, are from the guard.
it is a problem the army began to notice in world war i, where people who did not deploy had disproportionate numbers of suicides. we are working with the states. we provide, i will give you an example. in tennessee we send to national guard encampments mobile v.a. center is to talk with the guardsmen to work with the states. it is a problem particular to those in uniform and we are looking for as many creative ways as possible. i am looking at proposed changes that can be made to the law, because most of the time when these tragic things happen the individual is not in federal status, and has not been. an innocent employee of the state. we are aggressively cooperating with the states on that on a
very tragic, but telling, issue. one more. yes? what is the biggest remaining complaint of the v.a.? sec. wilkie: let me take a step back and tell you, as i said at the beginning, i have been blessed in my career working for condi rice and don rumsfeld and james mattis. this is the most exceptional professional experience i've ever had. i was born in khaki diapers. i didn't expect it, but it is the most noble mission in the federal government. i am surrounded by people who have dedicated their lives to veterans. i will tell you what the most frustrating part of the job is. there are many people who still wereat the v.a. as if it 2014, 2015, and 2016 when there was a systematic scandal i day. as i said in my opening remarks
we were 17 out of 17 in terms of best places to work will stop our patient satisfaction rates were below 50%. i want people to take an unfiltered look at what we are change that has been made, the support we have been given by this president is unprecedented. i think when you do that, when you have an un-jaundiced view of the v.a. that is untethered from what has gone on in the past, i think it is an institution that most americans can be very proud of. thank you all very much. >> earlier today house
republicans submitted their witnesses.sted the list includes hunter biden. toluca -- alexandra toluca, a former dnc staffer, and the unanimous whistleblower who wrote the complaint that initiated the impeachment inquiry. adam schiff is expected to reject many, if not all, of the requested witnesses. follow the house inquiry and the administration's response in the first open hearing of the impeachment inquiry this week. testimony from william taylor, the acting u.s. ambassador to ukraine, and deputy assistant george kent. that is live wednesday morning 10:00 a.m. eastern on c-span3, online at c-span.org, or on the free c-span radio app.
this veterans day monday on c-span at 11:00 a.m. eastern, live coverage of the laying of the wreath at the kennedy unknowns from arlington national cemetery. at 7:00 to 1980 nine nbc news broadcast on the fall of the berlin wall. veterans talk about the complexities of war. c-span.org, or listen using the free c-span radio app. what is a discussion on being done to combat extremism and domestic terrorism. we hear remarks from a former intelligence analysis director with the new york police department and former leader of the national socialist movement. held by new america, this is an hour and a half. good afternoon, everyone. we are going to get started.