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tv   Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie Addresses National Press Club  CSPAN  November 13, 2019 8:54am-10:01am EST

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>> secretary of veterans affairs robert wilkie assess the performance of his department and its goals for the care of our nations veterans. just before the veterans day holiday. this is about one hour.
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>> good afternoon. and welcome to the national press club. the place when news happens. i'm andrea edney, immediate past president of the national press club and and i serve on the bof both the club and of our journalism institute. we have a really, really great program ahead, invite you to listen, watch or follow along on twitter using the #npclive. for our c-span audience and public radio audience, please be aware that in the audience today are members of the general public, so any applause a reaction you may here are not, is not necessarily from working press. let me begin by introducing the head table and a like to ask you to please hold your applause and until all of the head table
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guests are introduced. helpful to have the list. so from my left and from your right we have sean butcher, communications manager at disabled sports usa and editor of challenge magazine. we have retired navy captain jim noon, command of the american legion post 20 here at the national press club. next to captain noon, we have retired u.s. marine corps lieutenant colonel brooks tucker. he is the assistant secretaryhe for the v.a. office of congressional and legislative affairs. we have laurie rousseau, the president of stanton communications and culture of the national press club headliners team. we have max lyft or uber, the publisher of stars & stripes.
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we have retired u.s. marine corps colonel jim byrne, deputy secretary of internal affairs. coming from my right and you're left, we have retired u.s. army lieutenant colonel luke, director at the mccain institute. we have jerry, washington bureau chief of the buffalo news and former president of the national press club. we have retired u.s. air force colonel pamela powers. she is the chief of staff of the department of veterans affairs. we have john hughes, an editor at bloomberg news and a former president of the national press club. we have retired u.s. navy captain kevin wincing, the national press club headliner member who arranged today's event. skipping over our guest just for one moment, we have donna,
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president at d.c. media strategies and she is also a former national press club president, and the culture of the national press club headliners team. i would like to also acknowledge a few additional members of the headliners team responsible for organizing today's luncheon. laurie rousseau and donna, who we just mentioned, kevin, and press club staff liaison lindsey underwood, membership engagement manager laura coker, chef susan, who prepared your lunch today, national press club executive director bill mccarron. thank you all.. [applause] i would also like to give a shout out to american legion post 20, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this month.
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it has been meeting at the club since its inception in 1919. is that right? no. yes, yes, okay. we are so proud to have you here. [applause] and now let me tell you just a little bit about secretary robert wilkie. robert wilkie is not a doctor, but he is responsible for the health care of about 20 million u.s. veterans. and that is just the beginning. as secretary of the department of veterans affairs, secretary wilkie is also in charge of administering veterans benefits, including health insurance, the g.i. bill, and even home loans. his agency employs about 375,000 people who care for millions.
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and healthcare is the most important benefit, as well as the biggest challenge. five years ago it was reported that some veterans were waiting months for care, and that some may have died because of those delays. .. served our country, more access to care outside of the va system. before being sworn in as the va secretary in july of 2018, wilkie was the son of a commander and spent years at fort bragg.
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he has experience at national and international level and remains an officer in the u.s. air force reserve as rank of colonel. before he joined the air force he served in the u.s. navy reserve with the joint forces intelligence command and the office of naval intelligence. on the eve of veterans day weekend. please join me in welcoming to the national press club va secretary robert wilkie. >> thank you, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for having me back for an encore. i said last year that i wanted to be one of you, that i was like some of you a high school newspaper editor. i'd learned how to cut out column inches on my easel in fayetteville, north carolina at reed roth high school. i had a dog-eared copy of dan rather's "the camera never
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blinks" and broadcast of edward rchlt m murmur -- edward r. murrow. i was taught that he represented the others, freedom on the front line of history. and in my father's time he saw many of your colleagues give the ultimate sacrifice in vietnam, during the invasion of cambodia, he was in the sector when two nbc news correspondents and cameramen did not come back from doing the job that they had sworn to do. so whenever i speak to journalists as a group of journalists, i thank you for defending the ideals that i hope all of us in national security strive to uphold
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because without you, the rest of it wouldn't be worth very much, so, thank you all very much. [applaus [applause] >> the other item i want to use as a point of personal the va hospital broke ground, a new fisher house. my parents are new orleans, we were privileged to get to know one of new orleans prominent families, a fellow who ended up one of the greatest in the house of representatives and his wife who not only took his seat in the united states house, but went on to be our ambassador to the vatican, i'm talking about hale and lindy.
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i'm talking about cokie roberts. and she was in new orleans and a regular customer. i became reacquainted with her as i became an adult and through her work in new orleans helping loyola university get back on its feet after katrina. she had one piece of advice from me and it came from her father and it was about doing business in washington, particularly in the congress when she said that the fellow that you are arguing with in the morning will probably be the fellow that you walk out of the chamber with your arm around in the evening. i think we would all be much better as a people and a country if we stuck by cokie roberts' dictum. so, thank you. [applaus
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[applause]. >> i will say i'm glad to be back at the press club celebrating the anniversary of american league post number 20 he here, a post inaugurated by the only man who is below washington on our protocol chart, of the first man below george washington on the protocol chart, general pershing, the general of the armies, general of the armies. general pershing, a member of this club and also the person who found the post here, now celebrating its 100th and remembersry. [applause]. since the first shots were fired at lexington in april of 1775, more than 41 million americans have put on the nation's uniform to defend freedom. today america's army is
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comprised only of citizen volunteers who have determined to defend this country. and our history is filled with heroes who found a way to fight even after being told they either weren't healthy enough or young enough or were not the right color or gender to walk on to the battlefield and defend those colors. so who were these americans who were told that they could not serve? >> one of them was a 33-year-old book worm/farmer from jackson county, missouri. he lied and cheated to get into the field artillery prior to world war i because he could not bear the thought of his friends and neighbors going to war and he not being there to support them. what he was saddled with was a battery called battery d of the
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29th field artillery of the missouri national guard. in france, they were known as the dizzy d's. the dizzy d's was the hardest drinking group of irishmen to ever stagger around the streets of kansas city and they were saddled with a bespeckled baptist 33-year-old who never commanded anything in his life except a plow, and before his first battle he sent a note to his future wife and he said, i have my doubts about bravery, when the explosive shells begin to explode and the gas attacks start. but when battery d came under fire for the first time in 1918, one private said of captain harry s truman, i don't think he'd ever been under fire before and i don't think it
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bothered him a damn. about the same time, thousands of young african-american soldiers marched to the colors before they could vote in most parts of the country. and before they were recognized for the foundational role that they played in the creation of our great republic. the legendary 369th infantry regiment of harlem new york signed up before anybody else in america, but they were not permitted to join the farewell parade down fifth avenue. but these dedicated americans were attached to the french army because there were parts of our army that would not accept them. they spent more time on the front lines. they suffered over 1500 casu casualti casualties. they have received 100 french
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gere, they received more commendations than any other unit in world war i when they returned home in 1919, the city of new york insisted that they lead the parade down fifth avenue. just a few years ago president obama awarded the congressional medal of honor to needham roberts, william johnson, the two most decorated soldiers of the most decorated unit of the united states army, almost 100 years after they saw richly deserved it. there are some other characters. at the out set of world war ii there was a very small accountant from chicago by the name of george rumsfeld who wanted to join the navy. he was told who was too light. he spent months drinking milk shakes and eating banana splits
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just so he could pass the weight requirement. he couldn't do anything about his age, but he could do something about his strength and he spent months in the gym trying to build up his endurance and the navy finally allowed him to enter service. but the navy actually moved young ensign rumsfeld to a blimp base in elizabeth city, north carolina. much to the consternation of his young son, who told his daddy that he needed to start writing letters to president roosevelt to convince him that he needed to go to the pacific. well, they wrote those letters and george rumsfeld persevered and the navy finally agreed to let him go serve in combat in the pacific. my father didn't want to spend the war in north carolina, donald rumsfeld said, and he did what every american was proud to do, go where the
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country sent them. so one of our strongest bonds as americans are those stories that we share about military service and how we come together as a nation to protect individual freedoms we love and enjoy. this year, i was reminded of my own childhood at fort sill and fort bragg when i was visited by a classmate and a friend. in the 1960's and 1970's when a child was called to the principal's office either in kindergarten or elementary school where i grew up, there was always a chance that that child wasn't going to a doctor's appointment, that there was bad news from southeast asia. my own father was so badly wounded in the invasion of cambodia, it took him three years to recover. it was a year after he was wounded before we saw him and he came back weighing half of what he did when he left, but that wasn't the end of the story for those times.
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when he recovered, he joined the most decorated combat division in all of the military of the united states, the all-americans. the 82nd airborne division and in that time, and in that place, he was not allowed to wear his uniform off post for fear of the reaction from his fellow citizens. ladies and gentlemen, that was not berkeley, california or cambridge, massachusetts, the southeast north carolina the heart of richard nixon country. people still stepped forward. one of those who did in the 1970's was master sergeant cicero johnson of harding county, north carolina. he was an air force medic. in april of 1975, donald rumsfeld and gerald ford decided to evacuate all the orphanages in saigon ahead of the north vietnamese army, they called it operation baby lift.
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sergeant johnson volunteered for that mission and on april 5th, 1975, as the guns of the north vietnamese could be heard, he boarded a c-5 with 178 vietnamese orphans. the c-5 did not make it to the end of the runway at the air base. 138 children lost their lives and 11 airmen. one of them was master sergeant denning johnson. this year 44 years later, i accompanied my classmate denise, to panel 1-w of the vietnam wall where she was able to touch the name of her father, one of the last from that conflict, and if you look just under his name, on that same panel is the name of one of the eight women officers of the united states air force, nurses and doctors, who lost
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their lives in vietnam. captain mary therese clinker, who was on that plane when sergeant johnson went down is the name right below his. so next week, we start our second century of remembering america's heroes on what used to be called armistice day, the 11th day, the 11th month, the 11th hour, that marked the end of the forlornly named war to end all wars. in the mid 1950's after more wars demanded more from the american people, america began celebrating not the stopping of the guns, but the men and women who made them stop and under general eisenhower, armistice day became veterans day. we rightfully call our veterans heroes, but i can think of an even higher compliment than
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that. these men and women rise to the defense of this nation because i think they see more clearly than most of us that our way of life is not guaranteed, it might be fought for as members of this profession have done throughout its history. alvin york started life in the army as a conscience objector and soon became a hero of the great war and by the time world war ii came around, he had been sounding the alarm as to what he saw happening in the place that he had fought in in 1917 and 1918 and he went around the country, reminding america that america is the last best hope on the planet. he said of those who wanted to avoid fighting nazi germany, the thing that we forget is that liberty and freedom and democracy are so very precious that you do not fight to win
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them once and then stop. liberty and freedom and democracy are prizes awarded only to those people who fight to win them and to keep fighting them eternally to hold onto them. i am privileged to be part of an organization that stands with men and women who talk like that, and that is why i appreciated richard nixon's grand gesture to veterans when america withdrew from vietnam. in those days, the counter culture was rampant. something i said, i saw as a young boy when my father as i had mentioned could not wear his uniform off of fort bragg, but nixon saw clearly we had to value our soldiers no matter what the outcome. he signed legislation boosting education and work training as a way of affirming our respect and gratitude to all of those who had born the battle.
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he praised them when they came back from the job in vietnam which he said was honorably undertaken and honorably ended and he said that our american soldiers are the strongest hope for america's future. i am very fortunate to be in this position. to be in a position where we care for our veterans, we care for their families, and we remind people every day that they are sleeping soundly at night because of the sacrifices of their fellow citizens who have experienced the incommunicable experience of war. a few years ago va was not in a very good place, with scandal after scandal, as many in this department and this place have noted. i believe we have turned the corner. this year i was able on behalf of the president to present the largest budget in the history of veterans affairs.
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220 billion dollars calling for 400,000 employees over 172 hospitals. our patient satisfaction rates are at the greatest in our history, 89.7%. we have embarked on the most transformational period in our history, with the mission act. we finally put the veteran at the center of his care, not put va institutional prerogatives at the center of that veterans care. we are giving veterans the option to choose the health care that they want. but one of the things that i'm happy to say in an unfiltered environment is that veterans are choosing with their feet. this year veterans have shown so much competence in this department that we have taken care of 3 million more
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appointments than we did in all of last year. [applause] we have a department that is where veterans can come because we understand the culture and we speak the language. and that is why i've said in many-- in many forum, including today in front of the white house press corps that if anybody accuses us of privatizing this system when we have a $220 billion budget, 400,000 employees, 172 hospitals, and a patient satisfaction rate of 89.7%, only in washington d.c. would people say that that is an argument that others are trying to privatize an
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institution. so what are my personal reflections as the leader of this wonderful department? i mentioned that we have turned a great corner. customer experience, not customer experience as a way that you would think about it, but customer experience within the veterans department amongst our employees, our satisfaction rates are at an all-time high. underneath the headlines we're embarking on the changes that will make our supply chain a modern 21st century supply chain. we're reforming our personnel system and in memory of people like my father for the very first time, even though generations have talked about this and administrations have spent barrels of ink on it, next year we will begin to roll out the electronic health record. the electronic health record
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that will be built the moment that young american walks into a military entrance processing station and is handed off to the department of veterans affairs. no longer will people like my father, after 30 years of jumping out of airplanes, being shot to pieces in vietnam, have to spend the rest of delays post service life carrying around an 800-page paper record. those days will be over. [applaus [applause]. but we are on the front line in the middle of two crisis that are devastating this nation. the first is the opioid crisis. the last year or so this department has reduced oip opioid prescriptions by 51%. instead of treating this, we've
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made a corporate decision to treat the sources of pain. we're substituting opioids with simple things like tylenol, and aspirin, ibuprofen and aspirin and alternative therapies, what is that? if we told you in my father's day, colonel, we're going to help you by doing tai-chi and yoga. his nose would have been in my face. we're helping our veterans in a multitude of ways to address the pain that came as a result of their military service. but the saddest thing that we encounter is veteran suicide. i have been accused of being an amateur historian and plead guilty to that and talk a
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minute about history. now, some of you know-- some of you may not know who benjamin harrison was. his only mark he served in between two nonconsecutive terms of glover cleveland. benjamin harrison had been a major in the civil war and had seen death on a massive scale. one of the things that troubled him most in his four short years in the white house was the avalanche of suicide notices he was receiving on his desk from the war department. suicide was devastating the frontier army and harrison ordered the war department to begin taking count of how many american soldiers took their lives with their own hands. this has been a problem that's been with us for that long. we saw a massive ramp up in suicides prior to the attack in
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pearl harbor. we saw a massive jump in the days after vietnam. but this is a national problem. one of the days i testified in front of the senate appropriations committee, the new york times and national public radio ran stories about a 30% increase in teen suicides amongst those teenagers who had watched the netflix show called "13 reasons why." today suicide is the number one cause of death for american youth. the new york city police department, the finest in the world, is now being hit with an epidemic of suicides. in our own veterans world, 20 a day take their lives. of those 20, 60% have no contact with va. the majority of those who take their lives are from my father's generation from
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vietnam. ladies and gentlemen, lyndon johnson left washington d.c. 50 years ago in january. that is how long many of these problems have been brewing with so many of our warriors. so for the first time we are making a national call to combat the scourge, that prevents task force from the president is the first attempt to bring a whole of government, whole health approach to the issue of suicide by bringing indian health, hhs, dod, hud and national institutes of health to come together and find ways to reach americans. now, i have said in -- and it's been pointed out, i am not a medical professional. i do know soldiers. it has been said that most federal commissions write reports that the day after
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become door stops. i had a great fear for this one because if we just focused on the last tragic act in a veterans' life this would be another report that serves as a door stop for those doors over there. so i have asked us to take a deep dive into mental health, into addiction and into homelessness. that tragic continuum that leads to so many tragedies. i am confident that we will have a new direction come march and i thank the administration for bringing the resources together to do that. so i will conclude and then we can have questions, but if i had one message for all of you, for the country, on veterans day, it would be to remind everyone that none of our great leaders of the past or present ever wanted caring for veterans
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to be an activity for one day. when it comes to veterans, some of our biggest successes as a nation have come from realizing that we have a special responsibility and that we can never go back to those days of the 1970's when those who put on those uniforms were shunned by the nation as a whole. so every time a company hires a veteran or provides a flexible work schedule for family members to care for veterans, that company sets an example for america. every time you donate money. every time you donate time or food or work for causes like the fisher house foundation, which builds housing to keep families closer together, when that veteran or that soldier is getting treatment, you are serving the cause and i am an example of what used to happen when a soldier came home.
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my mother was not even allowed to visit my father for the one year that he was recovering from his wounds because it was not part of the ethic. we now know that if a veteran or a soldier on active duty is to recover, those americans need the care and comfort of their families close at hand. so at va we are seeking more ways, more ways, more often to improve and to realize that the task is too big for any one federal department to organize a national thank you for america's veterans. so we are working with the states and localities, the nonprofits and others that we see in the system to come together and finally say that the freedoms that we enjoy were carried on the shoulders of our fellow citizens.
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i want to close before we begin questions with a little personal reflection because i'm going to commit a sacrilege. i am from a part of the country that has contributed a few great things to western civilization, louis armstrong, elvis, coca-cola, and william faulkner. last year i was a guest at roanoke, the ancesteral home of mr. faulkner in oxford, mississippi and it was pointed out to me that my great aunt who ended up being the first woman, american woman to be the chief judge on the court of veterans appeals during the roosevelt, franklin roosevelt administration, an as young student at ole miss she convinced this rather eccentric gentleman who used to walk around oxford, mississippi in the uniform of an officer of the royal canadian flying corps, with two big boxers.
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he was known as count no-count. she convinced him to use some of that eccentric imagination in the service of literature and he wrote six short plays for the ole miss marionette society and i was privileged at roanoke to talk about that, but i wanted to reflect when i was there on what i thought william faulkner always wanted to be, and that was a soldier. he came from a long line of soldiers and he'd been a mechanic in the canadian air force during world war i, but he always dreamed of being on the front lines. and the most profound speech i think any american gave in the 20th century was one dedicated to all of you in this room, to writers and journalists, it was faulkner's 1950 nobel prize acceptance speech. it's the shortest nobel prize acceptance speech in history by
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the way and the most powerful, but he was talking to you, to writers to journalists, but i think at his heart, he was really talking to soldiers, the soldier that he wanted to be. so the sacrilege that i have committed is that i have substituted the word writer with the word soldier, and the last two paragraphs of faulkner's address, and he said, with my addition, the soldier must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid and teaching himself that forget it forever leaving no room for anything, but the old verities, the old truths of the heart, the old universal truth lacking which any story is efemoral and doomed. he writes of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and worst of all without pity and without compassion, his griefs
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grieve on no universal bones leaving no scars. but until the soldier relearns those things he lives as though he stood among and watched the end of man, but i decline to accept the end of man. it is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure and that when the last ding-dong of doom was clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound, that of the soldier's inexhaustible voice still talking about hope. i think that is what we are about. we're about hope. we're about fulfilling a pledge never to fail nor forsake those who have borne the battle. as i've said at the beginning, it's all an honor for me to be
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here, to pay my respects, to a profession that knows so much about those sacrifices and a profession that those soldiers have sacrificed so much to keep vibrant and free. so, thank you all very much. [applaus [applause] >> secretary wilkie, thank you so much for being with us here today. >> sure. >> we have a lot of questions to get to. >> no, not in d.c. >> not in d.c. but there are so many great questions, especially from the audience, i'd really like to get to as many as we can. so i'm going to get started. >> okay. >> we know that health care requires innovation to help more patients. >> right. >> can you talk to us a little bit about what the va is doing to advance innovations for veterans and pushing those innovations to them? >> sure. >> how are these things-- >> let me put my "forest gump"
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hat on again, history. the departments of veterans affairs is one of the world's great medical innovators. the first pacemaker, the first liver transplant, the first electrical heart surgery. and-- the first nicotine patch. innovation is part of our dna. i said today at the press conference at the white house that we are partnered with the greatest medical institutions in this country. one right up the road at johns hopkins, md anderson, stanford, harvard, duke, as a wake forest man, i have to mention duke. and we have spent incredible amounts of money on research, but research that is not only relevant for veterans, but it's relevant for the country. let me give you an example.
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i had an interesting meeting last year with my counterpart in canada. i was proud to tell him that i have a closer relationship with the national hockey league than he does. why? the stories that you've been reading, stories that some of you have actually reported on the research into the con cussive effects of professional football and professional hockey and college football are being done at the va hospital in boston. ann mcgee, who has been one of time's 100 most influential americans, is doing that research in a boston va hospital with the help of the nfl, the nhl and the department of defense. as the undersecretary of defense, i look to her to come up with more solutions so that we can make our soldiers and marines in the front lines more survivable on the battlefield. so we are translating that innovation into real world
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effect. i will always advocate an increase in our research budget and it's not just for the veterans, it's for the entire country, but our partnerships, a partnership that omar bradley set forth when he was va administrator after world war ii, he said we want to be the hub of american medical innovation and it was his goal tangentially to have every medical student and nursing student do residency in va. we don't have 100% as general bradley envisioned, but we have. >> do you have what are the innovations and-- >> i can't because they're trotted out for competition. but let me tell you about innovation and innovative ways of dealing with current,
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current problems. mental health, the last great frontier in medicine. i've said we're not even at the sputnik stage when it comes to getting our arms around what goes on inside here. we have shunned away from talking about it as a nation. well, va now has same day mental health services. every veteran who comes to us has a mental health screening. and just in this last fiscal year we've screened more than 1 million veterans for mental health issues. we follow 3,000 of those on a daily basis. the other area na i will tell you-- i can tell you about pilot programs in this area because we have already awarded some of them. when you go to university of pittsburgh or you go to the va
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hospital in minneapolis, you will see the leading edge of robotic technology. va robots are now allowing veterans who would have died on the-- in the rice paddies of vietnam and even in the sands of desert storm, allowing them to walk. our exoskeletons is something that george lucas envisioned in the 1970's and he made fiction out of it, but it's reality. we're award biomedical engineering programs for robotic arms, robotic legs, we're the world's leaders in prosthetic devices across the world. if you haven't had a chance to see them.
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those in the press tell me and i will take you to see them, to see veterans who would have never been able to walk get up and walk across the room and i saw some walk into tampa stadium. why they would want to watch the tampa bay buccaneers, i don't know, but they did and it was a miraculous thing to see. >> the third party administrators for the new mission act have reportedly said that they need an influx of millions of dollars and a larger network of care to accommodate veterans seeking services in the private sector. is this new program not going to be able to meet veterans needs? what are you doing? >> so let me tell you what mission act has done. i don't know why the congress picked june 6th, anybody know what that means? d-day. they picked june 6th to begin our program. so let me tell you what has
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happened since mission act kicked in. we have had over-- almost 2 million americans come to va, use the decision support tool, and go out into the public to get their medical treatment. as i mentioned. i think i mentioned earlier we've had 70,000 go into urgent care. we replaced a failing network of support and what this is about is supporting our partners out in the field, meaning paying our bills. we inherited a failing proposition in getting the new-- getting the new program on-line, we created a backstop. there are-- there is a company in place working, paying our people,
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paying the private sector that is doing that until the company that actually won the contract gets on-line. i will say that mission has probably been the most successful rollout of a program the likes of which i cannot -- i can't remember when the federal government has rolled out something this big that has been this successful. i will also point to the surveys that have been done by our veteran service organizations since mission rolled out. veterans of foreign wars. the second largest veteran service organization in the country in response to mission they did their national survey. 90% patient satisfaction rate. most importantly, nine out of ten members of the vfw said we want our veterans who are not using va to use va. as i said earlier, they're
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voting with their feet. so i will give you a-- since i've been a victim of the jesuits in my lifetime, that's why this is flat in the back, i will use a good jesuit word inchoate about that story. inchoate when there's a literal translation from the latin sometimes means purposely incomplete. >> clearly, there have been many advances at the va. you mentioned that patient satisfaction rates are at the highest now with 87-- 89.7%, i think. and you've taken care of 3 million more appointments this year than in all of last year. these are laudatory figures. obviously, there's still more to be done. one example is in west virginia, clarksberg, west virginia.
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law enforcement authorities are investigating at least 10 patient deaths at the va hospital there, including two homicides or categorized homicides over a year long period. so who is investigating what the hospital could have done differently to stem the death toll? and what is the va learning from this investigation? >> sure, so clarksberg is a national tragedy. there's no two ways about it. we've lost 10 world war ii warriors. but let me take a step back. i mentioned doing, presenting an unfiltered account of what va is. we are not immune from problems that impact this nation. america has a shortage of mental health providers. we have a shortage of mental
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health providers. america has a shortage of internists. we have a shortage of internists. suicide impacts everybody, not just veterans. and from time to time in an organization of almost 400,000 with nine and a half million patients, we can be the victims of a crime. crimes that are so unusual that they probably wouldn't be caught even in the private sector, probably not. in fact, some of you were with me when i addressed the american legion in indianapolis. that day there was a story in the indianapolis paper about a doctor in chicago, i mean, in cincinnati, apologize to chicago-- who was probably responsible for the death of 23 of his patients, malfeasance, deliberate. what we have done at
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clarksberg, it's our people who discovered it and criminals are clever. this is in the hands of the independent inspector general. this investigation actually began before i was sworn in as secretary. the u.s. attorney has it. i will tell you that my first call whenever i encounter things like that is to make sure the justice department is aware. give you an example of this, there's probably a question in there about an incident that was reported in the new york times at our d.c. va. my first note, i think, and jim burn who is every here knows, i heard about it and pushed it up the chain to the deputy attorney general. when we come across these things, we treat them as vigorously as we can. and we have been reviewing our
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protocols strenuously and my pledge is that we do everything we can to make it safe. now, let me tell you what else has happened at clarksberg. our veterans know that what i just said is real. clarksberg has had a traumatic spike in terms of the number of veterans using that facility and the highest approval rates of any hospital in the country. they know that what happened is is anomaly. and they also know that we do everything we can to make their lives whole. i am hoping, and i have urged the inspector general to get this investigation done so that we know those final answers. >> when you say you're reassessing protocols, can you tell us some of the things that you may be considering changing? >> well, we look at scheduling. we look at whether-- >> and you're thinking about changing-- no, we're reviewing.
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we're reviewing how we monitor wards, are there cameras there? are there enough cameras? were the proper checklists in place, that's what we do in the military. i'll give you an example. high reliability organization. at va it was the brainchild of two geniuses. curtis lamay, the father of the nuclear air force and hiram rickover the father of the nuclear navy. they implemented a system, let me tell you why they revolutionized the way we do things like this. they knew that a mistake in their world had the potential to be a global catastrophe. nuclear navy strategic air command. so what they put in place was a review process. so we meet as a squadron every day. you've got pilots, logistics, the navigators, the fuel men. the intel guys and the food
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people. and we go over what happened the day before. not what went right, but what went wrong. and that allows these people to have a say in the direction of the organization. one of the rea reasons we have such high employee satisfaction rates right now is because of an organization like this that we've implemented across the country where people at the custodial level, the sterile processing level, the surgical level are going through the checklists every day. so in clarksberg, we're making sure that-- and i think we have made sure that everything is in place, but i will say this, and my father used to say it about soldiers, that if somebody is that dedicated to doing harm to you sometimes you can't find
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it. and we're doing everything we can to make sure that we are as vigilant as possible. >> i'm going to piggy back on a question that derrick, my friend and colleague from bloomberg news asked you when you were here last year, is the va going to recommend to congress to change the law and regulate drug prices within the industry? >> well, we already have, so i learned this. i've been there a year and three months. we already have -- jim, correct me if i'm wrong -- we already have special pricing to are our drugs, is that correct? >> that's correct. >> yeah, we work with industry on those prices. we are different from the rest of the government. >> got it. great. that's good to know. i'd like to ask a question-- when you think about it, think about it from business's
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perspective. we have 9 1/2 million patients. >> exactly, it's a-- >> and we may get more patients in the next few years. >> yes. i'd like to ask a question about austin tice. >> yes. >> who is a marine corps vet turned journalist. >> 2012, went missing in syria. >> what can they do to ensure the return of austin tice. >> let me share my own family's experience with what my father told me about correspondents that he saw, one he had to recover. i'm not saying this because i'm in front of you. journalists are on the front lines of freedom. they put their lives in danger every day. austin tice was captured, i believe in--
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i think it was september of 2012. marine corps veteran, incredibly brave journalists. there have been times in this journey, this terrible journey when we've known, we think we've known where he was. so let me tell you what i think we should continue to do. we celebrate freedoms. we impress upon the culture that what you all do can be incredibly dangerous. we support reporters without borders. we engage the congress. and i've found in my career that awareness and constantly repeating a mantra is it one of the most effective things that we can do. i lament the demise of the
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newseum for that one reason because it does serve to remind us that the first freedom in this country is you all. so engagement as with most things in american life is the key, but i'm very happy to say that we need austin tice back. [applause] >> we do. >> you mentioned that there would probably be an influx, more veterans coming into the system. so one example of this may be the blue water vietnam veteran disability claim, the va is going to start processing next year. will an influx much claims slow down processing time for disability claims?
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why or why not? >> it's an interesting question. telling a journalist it's an interesting question. let me tell you a little bit about a washington quandary. >> and we're down to two minutes. >> real quick. >> i'd like to ask one more question as well. >> no, we've been preparing, we're hiring more people, but let's, real quick, we were moving out under a court order to begin paying claims earlier in this year that congress passed a law that overrode the court decision and said we can't start paying claims until january 1st. i've got protesters outside of my building today demanding why i'm not paying-- demanding to know why i'm not paying those bills even though congress told us i can't do it until january 1st. so i made them a promise. we're going to be the one department in the federal government working on january 1st to process those claims in accord with the law. >> one quick question, very
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quick, if i may, about cost overruns. there's a gao report on delays and cost overruns for new veterans cemeteries. some projects have been delayed for years, and estimates for the facilities have been off by as much as 200%. why is this happening and what are you doing to address it? >> well, let me tell you, our veterans cemeteries are probably as important as anything we do. we're just opening one in western new york. i've just opened one in west los angeles. 90,000 spots in west los angeles in hollywood. so what i've seen-- i don't know how old that gao report is. >> september. >> since september, but it probably stopped reporting a long time ago and that's the flow. no, we have an all-time high budget for our cemeteries. one of our problems is federal acquisition regulations that prevent us from doing certain
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things. give you a quick example, california, i couldn't build a clinic in bakersfield because the federal acquisition regulations say that it was within eyesight of a liquor store. they need a clinic. the same thing is happening in many cases on the cemeteries, but we're opening cemeteries all over the country. >> thank you. so before i give you the final question, i'd like to just mention a couple of upcoming events that we have here at the club. we have a party for the 100th anniversary of american legion post 20 on tuesday, november 19th. you're all welcome and we have an upcoming headliners luncheon, friday november 15th with former georgia house democratic leader stacy abrams. now, you know, i think, last year that we also have a tradition of giving each esteemed speaker a national press club mug.
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so now you have a collection. >> i do. >> i hope it grows. thank you so much for being here today. wait, wait, wait. we have one more final question. and that is, in your opinion, who is the greatest living veteran? >> i would never say it. [laughter] >> you know what? you look at-- you look at the average medal of honor winner, they fall into two categories primarily, one is the perennial misfit, the guy who was the troublemaker in high school, the guy who was in trouble with the law, and the other categories-- category is reflected in the person of audi leon murphy, too small to go to marine corps, too small to go to the army air corps, by a freakish accident got into the united states ar army, the most decorated
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soldier of world war ii. service to me is service. i quote al liver wendell holmes often, someone who experienced the hell of antitem, 16,000 gone. four times as many people lost in that battle holmes was wounded in than the entire d-day campaign. ordinary people called upon to do extraordinary things. so you can't put a price on it, you can't say who was the greatest. but it's a -- it's great to reflect on everyone who has done the job. >> well, thank you very much for coming here and speaking with us today. it's a real honor. [applaus [applause] >> let me take my mug. >> take your mug and on behalf of the national press club i
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would like to thank all veterans for their service. so with that, we are adjourned. [applaus [applause]. [inaudible conversations] [inaudible conversations] >> house intelligence committee chairman adam schiff released procedures for the committee's first public impeachment inquiry hearing. within the document he outlined three questions for the committee to seek answers. first, did president trump ask a foreign government to investigate a potential opponent in the 2020 election. the second did president trump seek to have the ukrainian government advance the president's personal interest in exchange for military aid or an invitation to the white house and the third question, did president trump or his administration try to withhold information from congress and
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the american people about his conduct? to read the full impeachment inquiry procedures document, go to our website, >> the house will be in order. >> for 40 years c-span has been providing america unfiltered coverage of congress, the white house, the supreme court, and public policy events from washington d.c. and around the country so i can make up your own mind. created by cable in 1979, c-span is brought to you by your local cable or satellite provider. c-span, your unfiltered view of government. government. >> u.s. senate back in session today, live coverage on c-span2. on today's agenda, lawmakers will resume debate on nomination of chad wolf to be homeland security undersecretary for strategy,
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policy and plans. the confirmation vote is expected at 11 a.m. eastern. lawmakers will also work on a judicial nomination. the president pro tempore: the senate will come to order. the chaplain, dr. black, will lead the senate in prayer. the chaplain: let us pray. eternal god, hear us when we cry to you. you have been our help in ages past,


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