New Secretary Tours Florida, Pledges To Protect VA From Politics

12 minutes ago
Originally published on August 10, 2018 7:46 am

A former Pentagon official is now running the Department of Veterans Affairs and has pledged to protect the VA from politics and total privatization.

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie was President Trump's second choice to replace fired Secretary David Shulkin.

“I think there are two departments in the federal government that should be above any partisan bickering and that is Department of Defense and VA,” Wilkie said. “Partisan politics shouldn’t impact anything a veteran experiences. That’s my pledge.”

Wilkie is an officer in the Air Force Reserves and served as Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness with Defense Secretary James Mattis before moving to the VA.

He took the oath of office just last week and has spent much of his second week on the road visiting Florida VA medical centers in Tallahassee, Orlando and Tampa. And Wilkie was the keynote speaker for both the national AMVETS conference in Orlando and the Jewish War Veterans convention in Tampa.

His top priority is to implement an electronic medical records system that is seamless so it includes a veteran’s medical history from the VA, Department of Defense and private physicians and pharmacies.

“We’re in the midst, nationally, of a terrible opioid crisis. What this gives VA the ability to do is it will take a veteran’s record and if he has an opioid given to him by VA and someone in the private sector gives him something else – the combination of those two streams will alert VA that that individual is now on a spectrum for trouble,” Wilkie said.

He estimates it will take five to 10 years to fully implement an electronic medical records system. But the VA is partnering with the Department of Defense in the state of Washington to set up a pilot program.

Wilkie was quick to defend against lingering fears that he or the Trump Administration will privatize the VA.

“First of all, that is a legislative impossibility. The only way the VA is privatized is if our board of directors on Capitol Hill say it will be privatized. But that doesn’t mean that we cannot come up with a mix of VA and private care for our veterans.”

He told the AMVETS audience, "The private sector cannot replicate the VA's expertise in many things like spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, rehabilitative services, prosthetics, audiology, services for the blind, and suicide prevent."

Wilkie is a history buff who was quick to reference a previous VA secretary, the former WWII Army General Omar Bradley, who is credited with reshaping the VA.

“In his day, right after World War II, 30 percent of the care was in the private sector,” Wilkie said.

Copyright 2018 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7. To see more, visit WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7.