Veterans are getting progressively better care through partnerships, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said Oct. 16 at an Association of the United States Army luncheon.
Partnerships help Veterans through several different areas, adding to VA’s ability to provide services.
Wilkie said he convened the first all-government panel Oct. 15 to end Veteran suicide. The group included the Department of Health and Human Services, the Indian Health Service, Department of Defense, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the National Institutes of Health.
The partnership is looking for a medical, holistic and social answer to Veteran and military suicide. Veteran suicide has long been a national concern, Wilkie said, saying the Army started collecting suicide data in 1893.
“We are finally having a national conversation that does not just look at the last tragic act of a Soldier’s life, but looks at the continuum of issues that might lead to that tragic act,” he said.
Another partnership Wilkie cited is the unified electronic health record for Veterans. The record will put everything in one place, from when people enlist until they’re discharged and receiving VA care. He said the joint Department of Defense and VA partnership will lead to a seamless record, far from the hundreds of printed pages Veterans used to carry around.
Veterans deserve better care
Veterans deserve this better care because of the enormous price they have paid for the nation, Wilkie said.
Wilkie shared a personal story of growing up during Vietnam as a child at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The secretary said when friends in elementary school were called up to the principal’s office, there was a chance there was bad news from Southeast Asia.
He said one of these times was April 4, 1975. Before South Vietnam fell, President Gerald Ford ordered Saigan orphanages evacuated under Operation Baby Lift. One of the medics on the C-5 was Air Force Master Sgt. Denning Cicero Johnson.
A faulty cargo door caused the plane to crash during takeoff from Tan Son Nhut Air Base. Dozens of Vietnamese children, 35 Defense Attaché members and 11 Airmen died, including Johnson. His daughter, Denise, and the future VA secretary shared the same classroom.
Wilkie escorted Denise to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall April 4, 44 years to the day after. She touched her father’s name on the last row of the last panel – the “1W” panel at the center of the memorial.
Meaning of service
During the event, Wilkie highlighted the stories of several Army Veterans. One of those, Cpl. Alvin York, received a Medal of Honor during World War I. York’s heroism resulted in 25 German dead and the capture of 132 more.
Someone asked York in 1941 about the wisdom of fighting World War I when America was on the verge of having to fight again in World War II.
“He said the thing that these so-called experts forget is that liberty and freedom and democracy are so very precious that you do not fight to win them once and then stop,” Wilkie said. “Liberty and freedom and democracy are prizes awarded only to those peoples who fight to win them and keep fighting forever to hold onto them.”
The secretary told the audience helping Veterans shows thanks for their service.
“Every time you look to protect our warriors in the field, or hire them, or help them, fund pro-Veteran causes like the Fisher House, you are doing more than helping these deserving young people,” he said. “You are setting an example for this country, and reminding everyone that we have our Veterans to thank. It’s not the pundit. It’s not the professor. It is not the protester. It is those young people who have never shied away from the call of duty.”