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tv   Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie Addresses National Press Club  CSPAN  November 8, 2019 1:00pm-2:07pm EST

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we have added a tally from the associated press showing where each house democrat stands on the impeachment inquiry against president trump. follow the impeachment inquiry on the home page at cspan.org/impeerment. and you can watch unfiltered coverage at any time. with this being veterans day weekend, the veterans affairs secretary robert wilkie is at the national press club in washington, d.c., today. he is expected to discuss the department's goals and priorities. you are watching live coverage on c-span3. >> i serve on both the board and the journal institute. we have a great program ahead and we invite you to listen, watch or follow on twitter using #npclive. for our c-span and public radio
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audiences, please be aware that in the audience today are members of the general public, and so any applause or reaction that you may hear are not, is not necessarily from the working press. so, let me begin by introducing the head table, and id'd like to ask you to please hold your applause until all of the head table guests are introduced. so from my left and your right, we have shawn butcher, communications manager at disabled sports usa and editor of challenge magazine. we have retired navy captain jim noon commander of the american lee jun post here at the national press club. next to captain noon, we have retired u.s. marine corps
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lieutenant colonel brooks tucker, the assistant secretary for the v.a.'s office of congressional and legislative affairs. we have lori rousseau who is the president of the national press club headliners team. we have max ledder who is the publisher of the "stars and stripes." we have retired u.s. marine corps lieutenant colonel jim burn, and he is the number two guy at veterans affairs. from my left to right, we have retired lieutenant colonel luke knitig from the mccain institute, and jerry resimski former president of the buffalo news and former president of the national press club, and we have retired u.s. air force colonel pamela powers who is the current
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chief of staff at the vets roff veterans affairs and also, we have the former president of the national press club, and we have retired u.s. navy captain kevin wincing who is the headliner who arranged the event today. skipping over you one moment, and we have donna who is the head of the media stategies and also a former national press club president and the co-chair 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, lori rousseau and donna wineland and kevin and press club staff liaison lindsey underwood, and the underengagement laura coacher, and chef susan dellfer
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who prepared the lunch, and executive director bill mccarron. thank you all. i'd also like to get a shoutout to the american legion post 20 which celebrating the 100. anniversary this month. 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. 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.
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as secretary of the department of veterans affairs, secretary wilkie is also in charge of administering veterans benefits including health insurance, and the g.i. bill and even the home loan, and his agency employs about 375,000 people who care for millions. and health care 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. some members of congress proposed privatizing the v.a. while others have sought major, major reform. secretary wilkie today is overseeing a major shift in how health care for veterans is delivered, giving those who served our country more access to care outside of the va
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system. before being sworn in as the va secretary in july of 2018, wilkie served as undersecretary for defense of personnel and readiness. he is the sochb n of an artille army commander and spent time at ft.bragg, and he also serves in the u.s. reserve with the 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. so on the eve of veterans day weekend, please join me in welcoming to the national press club the va secretary robert wilkie. >> thank you, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you so much for having me back for an
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encore. i said last year that i wanted to be one of you. they was like some of you the high school newspaper editor and i learned how the cut out the column inches on the easel cutout, and i had a dog eared copy of dan rather's "the camera never blinks" and the collective broadcast of edward r. murrow, and i was taught at an early age by my father who was an incredibly decorated combat soldier that edward r. murrow represented other people who were on the front line of freedom, on the front line of history. 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
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nbc news correspondents and cameramen did not come back from doing the job 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 at national security strive to uphold, because without you, the rest of it wouldn't be worth very much, and so thank you all very much. >> the other item that i want to use as a point of personal privilege and i just came back from new orleans, and visiting the va hospital there and i broke ground on a new fisher house, and my parents are new orleanians, and many generations, and in our family's history, we were privileged to get to know one of new orleans' most prominent families.
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a fellow who ended up being one of the great majority leaders of the united states house of representatives and his wife who not only took his seat in the united states house, but went on to be the ambassador the vatican and i am talking about hale and lindy box, and of course we lost a great correspondent earlier in year cokie roberts. i met her when she would first visit my family's bakery in new orleans, and she was 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 for me, and it came from her father, and it was about doing business in washington, and particularly in the congress when she said that the fellow that you are arguing with in the morning will
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probably be the fellow that you walk out of the chamber with your arm around in the evening. i think that we would all be much better as a people and a country if we stuck by cokie roberts' dictum. so thank you. so, i will say that i am glad to be back at the press club, celebrating the anniversary of post american legion post number 20 here. a post that was inaugurated by the only man who is below george washington on our protocol, and the first man below george washington on the protocol chart, general per, ishing, the general of the club, and the person who founded the post which is now one of the oldest and now celebrating the 100th
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anniversary anniversary. >> since the first shots were fired at lexington in april of 1875, more than 40 million americans have put on the nation's uniform to defend freedom. today, america's army is comprised only of citizen volunteers who have determined to defend this country. our history is filled with heroes who found a way to fight, and even after being told that they either were not healthy enough or big enough or were the right color to defend the colors. so who were the americans who were told they could not serve? one of them was a 33-year-old
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bookworm/farmer from jacksonville 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 was a battery called battery d of the field artillery of the missouri national guard and in france, they were known as the dizzy ds, and that is the hardest group of irishmen to ever stagger around the streets of kansas city, and they were saddled with a bespeckled baptist 33-year-old who had never commanded anything in his life except for a plow. and before his first battle, he sent a note to his future wife and he said, i have my doubts
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about my bravery when the explosive shells began 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 that he'd ever been under fire before, and i don't think that it bothered him a damn. about the same time, thousands of young african-american soldiers marched to the colors before they could vote in most of the parts of the country, and before they were recognized for the foundational role they played in the creation of our great republic. the legendary 369th infantry regimen of harlem, new york, signed up before anybody else in america. but they were not permitted to join the farewell parade down
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fifth avenue, and these dedicated americans were attached to the french army, because there were parts of our army that would not accept. they spent more time on the front lines, and they suffered over 1,500 casualties, and they received 100 french quad and they were on the front line more often and suffered more casualties than any other infantry 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 and william johnson, the two most decorated soldiers of the most decorated unit of the united states army almost 100 years after they so richly
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deserved it. there are some other characters. at the outset of world war ii, there was a very small accountant from chicago by the name of george rumsfeld. he wanted to join the navy, but he was told that he was too light, so he spent months drinking milkshakes and eating banana splits just so he could pass the weight requirement. he couldn't do anything about the age, but he could about the strength and so 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 space in 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
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go to pacific. well, they wrote the 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 is proud to do, go where the country sent them. so one of the 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 that we love and enjoy. this year, i was reminded of my own childhood at ft. sill and ft. bragg when i was visit bade classmate and a friend. in the 1960s and 1970s, 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 child
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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 is not the end of the story for those times. 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 of the fellow citizens. and ladies and gentlemen, that was not berkeley, california, or cambridge, massachusetts, but southeastern north carolina, but people still stepped forward. one who did was master sergeant
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cicero denning johnson. he was an air force medic and in april of 1975, donald rumsfeld and gerald ford decided to evacuate all of the orphanages in siaigon ahead of the advance of the north vietnamese army. they called it "operation baby lift." 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, and the c-5 did not make it into the end of the runway at tonsonu when many lost their lives and one of them was sergeant denning. this year, i accompaniedly classmate denise to panel 1w of
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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 the same panel is the name of one of the eight women officers of the united states air force, nurses and doctors who lost their lives in vietnam. captain mary therese clinker 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 of the 11th month of the 11th hour that marked the end of the forlornly named "war to end all wars." in the mid-1950s after more wars demanded more from the american
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people, america began celebrating not the stopping of the guns, but the men and women who made them stop. under general eisenhower armistice day became veterans day. we rightfully call our veterans heroes, but i can think of a higher compliment than 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 must be fought for as members of this profession have done throughout the history. alvin york started life in the army as a conscientious objector, and soon became the greatest american here troef war, and by the time that world war ii had come around, he had been sounding the alarm as to what he saw happening in the place that he had fought in this 1917 and 1918, and he went
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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 that the thing that we forget is that liberty and freedom and democracy are so very precious that you do not fight to win 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 internally to hold on to them. i am privileged to be part of the 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, and in those days, the counter culture was rampant, and something that i said, i saw as a young boy, when my father
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as i mentioned could not wear his uniform off of fort bragg and nixon saw it clearly that we had to value the soldiers no matter what the outcome, and he signed the legislation, and boosting education and work training as a way of reaffirming the respect and gratitude toward all of those who had borne the battle. he praised them when they came back for the job they did in vietnam. and 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, and we care for their families, and we remind people everyday that they are sleeping soundly at night because of the sacrifices of their fellow citizens who have experienced the incommunicable
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experience of war. a few years ago, the va was not in a very good place. it was scandal after scandal and many in this department and this place have noted. i believe that 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, $220 billion calling for 400,000 employees over 172 hospitals. our patient satisfaction rates are at the great nest the history, 89.7%. we have embarked on the most transformational period in our history with the mission act, and we finally put the veteran at the center of the care, and not put va institutional prerogatives at the center of that veterans care. we are giving veterans the
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option to choose the health care that they want. but one of the things that i am happy to say in an unfiltered environment is that veterans are choosing with their feet, and this year veterans have shown so much confidence in this department that we have already taken care of 3 million more 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 have said in many forum including today and in front of the white house press corp, that if anybody accuses us of privatizing the system when we
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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 is an argument that others trying to privatize an institution. so, what are my personal reflections? as the lead ore ter of this won dechlt i menti department. i mentioned that we have turned a great corner and not customer experiences that you would think about it, but the customer experience within the veterans department amongst our employees. our satisfaction rates are an all-time high. underneath the headlines, we are
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embarking on the supply chain to be a 20th century supply chain and reforming our personnel, and like my father for the first time and even though the 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, and the electronic health record that is built the young american walks into the military entrance processing station and 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 the pieces in vietnam, have to spend the rest of his post service life carrying around an 800-page paper record. those days will be over. >> but we are in the front line of the middle of two crises that
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are devastating the nation, and the first is the opioid crisis. the last year or so, this department has reduced opioid prescriptions by 51%. and we have done it in a very simple way. instead of treating this, we have made a corporate decision to treat the sources of pain. we are substituting opioids with simple things like tylenol and aspirin, i buprofen and aspirin and augmenting that with alternative therapies. what does that mean? in my father's day if i had said, colonel, we will make you feel better by tai chi and yoga, my nose would have been flattened. so we are setting the standard
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to offer a multitude of ways to address the pain that came as result of the military service, but the saddest thing that we have encountered is veteran suicide. i have been accused of being a amature historian, so i will plead guilty to that and talk to you a minute about history. some of you know, and some of you may not know who benjamin harrison was. his only mark in the history books is that he served in between two nonconsecutive presidential terms of grover cleveland. benjamin harrison had been a major general in the civil war. he had seen death on a massive scale. and one of the things that troubled him most in the four short years in the white house was the avalanche of suicide notices that he was receiving on the desk from the war department. suicide was devastating the
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frontier army. and harrison ordered the war department to begin taking count of how many american soldiers took their lives with their own hands. and so we have seen a massive ramp up after the attack in pearl harbor, and we saw a massive jump in the days after vietnam. but this is a national problem. one of the days that i testified in front of the senate appropriations committee, "the new york times" and national public radio, ran stories about a 30% increase in the teen suicides, and amongst those teenagers who had watched a netflix show called "13 reasons why." and today, suicide is the number one cause of death for american youth. the new york police department,
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the fine nest tst in the world 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 from my father's generation from vietnam. ladies and gentlemen, lyndon johnson left washington, d.c., 50 years ago in january. that is how long many of the 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. the prevent task force from the president is the first attempt to bring a whole of government, and whole health approach to the issue of suicide by bringing indian health, and hhs and dod
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and hud and the national institutes of health to come together and find ways to reach americans. now, i have said that and it has been pointed out that i am not a medical professional, and i do know soldiers. it has been said that most of the federal commissions write the reports that the day after become doorstops. i ha had a great fear for this one. because if we just focused on the last tragic act in the veterans' li s e's life, this w another report that served as a doorstop for the doors over there, and so i have asked to us take a deep dive into addiction and mental illness and homelessness, and 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
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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 the present ever wanted caring for veterans to be an active for one day. when it comes to veteran, some of the biggest successes as a nation have come from realizing that we have a special responsibility and that we can never go back to the days of the 1970s 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. and every time you donate money,
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and 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. my mother was not allowed the visit my father when he was recovering from the wound, because it is not part of the ethic. now we know that if a veteran or soldier on active duty is to recover, those americans need the care and comfort of their families close at hand. so at the 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
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national thank you for america's veterans. so we are working with the states and the localities and 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. i want to close before we begin questions with the little personal reflections, because i am going to commit a sacrilegsa i am from the part of the country that has contributed a few things to civilization, louie armstrong, elvis, coca-cola and william faulkner. last year, it was a guest at w roano roanoke, and it was pointed tout me that my great aunt who ended
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up to be the first american woman to be the chief judge on the court of veterans appeals during the franklin roosevelt administration. as a young student at ole miss, she had convinced the rather eccentric gentleman who used to walk around oxford, mississippi n the uniform of the officer in the royal canadian flying corps with two big boxers and he was known as count/no count. she confused him to use some of the eccentric imagination in the service of literature, and he wrote six plays for the ole miss marionette society, and i was privileged at roanoke to reflect on that, but i was there for what i thought william faulkner always wanted to be and that is a soldier. he came from a long line of osoldiers. he had been a mechanic in the canadian air force during world
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war i, but he had dreamed of being on the front lines, and the most profound speech, i think that any of the americans gave in the 20th century was one dedicated to all of you in this room to writers and journalist, and it was faulkner's 1950 nobel prize acceptance speech, and it is the shortest nobel prize acceptance speech in history by the way and the most powerful. he was talking to you, to writers and journalists, but i think that at his heart he was really talking to soldiers and the soldier that he wanted to be. so the sacrilege that i have committed is substituting soldier for writer in the last two paragraphs of faulkner's address and he said in my edition, the soldier must teach himself that the basis of all things is to be afraid and to
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get it right to leave no room for the old verities, the old truths of the heart, and the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and attuned and he writes and defeats in which nobody loses anything of value of victories without hope, and worst of all without pity and compassion. his griefs grieve on no universal bones leaving no scars, but until the soldier relearns the things that he lives as though he stood among and watched the end of man, but i declined to accept the end of man. it is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he is endure, and when the last ding dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening that even then there is still going to be one more sound, that of the soldier's
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inexhaustible voice still talking about hope. i think that is what we are about. we are about hope. we are about fulfilling a pledge never to fail nor foresake those who have borne the battle. as i said in the beginning, it is always an honor for me to be 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. >> secretary wilkie, thank you so much for being here today. we have a lot of questions to get to today. >> no, not in d.c.
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>> so many great questions from the audience and i would like to get to as many as we can, so i'm going to get started. we know that health care requires innovation to help more patients. >> right. >> and 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 together. >> sure. will et me put on the forest gump hat again, history, the department of veterans affairs is one of the world's great medical innovators, the first pacemaker, the first liver transplant, the first electrical heart surgery, the first nicotine patch. innovation is part of ourdan dn i said at the white house conference that we are partnered with the greatest medical
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institutions in the country, and one up the road at johns hopkins, md anderson and as a wake forest man, i have to mention duke. and we have spent incredible amounts of money on the research, but research that is not only relevant for the veteran, but for the country. and an example. i had an interesting meeting 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? because the stories that you have been reading and some of you have actually reported on the research into the concussive effects of professional football and professional hockey and college football are being done at the va hospital in boston. ann mcgee who has been "time's" top 100 influential americans is doing that research in the
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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 effect. i will always advocate an increase in the research budget, and not just for the veteran, but the entire country, and the partnership is a partnership that omar bradley set forth when he was va administrator after world war ii, and head said that we want to be the hub of american innovation and it is
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his goal transjen shagentially. >> and do you know when some of the new treatments are going to be released? >> i can't because they are being trotted out for competition, but let me tell you about innovation, and know va zif way -- innovative ways of dealing with current problems. mental health, and the last frontier of medicine and i have said that we are not at the sputnik stage when it comes to getting our arms around what is going on inside of here. we have shunned away from talking about it as nation. well, va now has the same-day mental health services, and every vet that comes to us has a mental health screening and just in the last fiscal year, we have
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skreend more th screened more than 1 million vets to follow on a daily basis. and another area, they can tell you about the pilot programs in this area, because we have already awarded some of them. when you go to the university of pittsburgh or you go to the va hospital in independence, you will see the leading edge of robotic technology. va robots are now allowing veterans who would have die d o the rice patties of vietnam orred on tor even on the sands of afghanistan to die are new exoskeletons. it is something that george
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lucas created and made fiction out of it, but it is reality, and we are awarding the biomedical engineering programs for robotic arms, and robotic assistance and robotic legs. we are the world's leader in prosthetic devices across the world. if you have not had a chance to see them, those of you in the press, tell me, because 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 and why they would want to watch the tampa bay buccaneers, i don'tb kn know, but they did an was a miraculous thing to see. >> the third-par administrators for the new mission act have reportedly said they need an influx of millions of dollars and larger network of care to accommodate the veterans seeking
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the services in the private sector and is this new program not going to be able to meet the veterans' needs and what are you doing for this? >> let me tell you what mission act has done and i don't know why the congress picked june 6th. anybody know what that means? d-day. they picked june 6th to begin the program. so let me tell you what has happened since mission act has kicked in. we have had over almost 2 million americans come to va and use the decision support tool, and go out into the public to get their medical treatment. as i mentioned, i think that i mentioned it earlier that we have had 70,000 go into urgent care. we replaced a failing network of support, and what this is about is supporting our partners out
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in the field. meaning, paying our bills. we have inherited a failing propositi proposition. in getting the new program online, we created a backstop. there is a company in place working, paying our people, and paying the private sector that is doing that until the company that actually won the contract gets online. i will say that mission has been probably the most successful rollout of the program, the likes of which i cannot, i cannot 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, and the veterans of foreign wars, the second largest veteran
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service organization in the country and in response to the mission, they did their national survey and 90% patient satisfaction rate, and more importantly, 9 of 10 members of the vfw have said that we want our veterans who are not using va to use va. as i said earlier, they are voting with their feet. so i will give you a, since i have been a victim of the jesuits in my lifetime, and that is why this is flat in the back, i will use a good jesuit word inchoate about that story. inchoate when there is a literal translation from the latin sometimes means purposely and complete complete. >> clearly, there have been many advances at the va and the patient satisfaction rates are
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the highest and now with 89.7% i think, and now you have taken care of 3 million more appointments this year than in all of last year. these are laudatory figures. obviously, there is still more to be done. one example is in west virginia, clarksburg, west virginia and law enforcement authorities are investigating at least ten 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, clarksburg is a national tragedy. there's no two ways about it.
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we have lost ten world war ii warriors. and let me take a step back, because i have presented 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 and we have a shortage of mental health providers and america has a shortage of internists, and 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 9.5 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, and probably not. and in fact, some of you were with me when i addressed the
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american legion in indianapolis, and that day, there was a story in the indianapolis paper about a doctor in chicago, i mean, cincinnati, and apologize to chicago. who was probably responsible for the what we have done at clarksburg, 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 this is to make sure the justice department is aware, give you an example. there's probably a question in there about an incident reported in the "new york times" at dcva.
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my first note, and jim burns over 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 protocols strenuously. my pledge is that we do everything we can to make it safe. let me tell you what else has happened at clarksburg. our veterans know that what i just he had is real. clarksburg has had a dramatic spike in terms of the number of veterans using that facility. it has one of the highest veterans approval rates of any hospital in the country. they know that what happened is an anomaly. they also know that we do everything we can to make their
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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 you may be considering changing. >> we look at scheduling. we look at whether we have -- >> you're thinking about changing -- >> we're reviewing how we monitor wards. are the cameras there. are there enough cameras, were the proper checks in place. this is something we do in the military. i'll give you an example, high reliability organization. we have now implemented it as v.a. it was the brainchild of two geniuses, curtis lemay, the father of the nuclear air force and the father of the nuclear navy. they implemented a system. let me tell you why they revolutionized the way we do
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things. 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 people. 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 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, processing
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level, surgical level, are going through the checklists every day. so in clarksburg we're making sure, and i think we have made sure that everything is in place. but i will say this. my father used to say it about soldiers. said if somebody thais dedicated to doing harm to you, sometimes you can't find it. and we're doing everything we can to make sure that we are as vigilant as possible. >> i'm going to piggyback on a question that darrick wallbank, my friend and colleague asked you last year. is the v.a. going to recommend to congress to change the law and allow the v.a. to negotiate drug prices with industry. >> well, we already have. so i learned this. i've been there a year and three
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months. we already have -- jim, correct me if i'm wrong -- we already have special pricing arrangements for our drugs. is that correct? >> that's correct. >> yeah. >> we work with industry on those prices. we're 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 perspective, we have 9.5 million patients. we may get more patients in the next few years. >> yes. i'd like to ask a question about austin tice, who is a marine corps vet turned journalist. >> 2012. >> went missing in syria. what can veterans be doing to support the safe return of austin tice. >> let me go back to what i said earlier today about my own family's experience what my
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father told me about correspondence he saw, one he had to recover. i'm not saying this because i'm in front of you, journalists are on the frontline of freedom. they put their lives in danger every day. austin tice was captured, i believe, in i think september of 2012. marine corps veteran, incredibly brave journalist. 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
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borders. we engage the congress. i found in my career that awareness and constantly repeating a mantra is one of the most effective things that we can do. i lament the demise of the museum 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.
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>> you mentioned there would probably be an influx, more veterans coming into the system. blue water in disability claims the v.a. is going to start processing next year. will an influx of claims slow down processing times for disability claims. why or why not? >> that's an interesting question. i'm telling a journalist it's an interesting question. let me tell you a little bit about a washington quandary. >> we are 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. real quick, we were moving out under a court order to begin paying claims earlier this year, then congress passed a law that overrode the court decision and said we can't start paying claims until january 1st.
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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 quick, if i may, about cost overruns. a gao report that comes out, 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 veteran 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.
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west los angeles and hollywood. so what i've seen -- i don't know how old that gao report is. >> september. >> september? 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 things. give you a quick example. california, i couldn't build a clinic in bakersfield because the federal acquisition regulations say 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
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club. we have a party for 100st post on tuesday november 19th. you're all welcome, and we have an upcoming headliners luncheon on the 15th with former georgia house democratic leader stacey abrams. now you know, i think from last year, that we also have a tradition of giving each esteemed speaker a national press club mug. so now you have a collection. 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. you know what -- >> tricky. >> you look at -- you look at the average medal of honor winner. they fall into two categories primarily. one is the perennial misfit, the
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guy who was the troublemaker in high school, the guy who was in trouble with the law. the other category is reflected in the person of audi leon murphy. too small to go to the marine corps, too small to go to the army air corps. by a freakish accident got into the united states army. the most decorated soldier of world war ii. service to me is service. i quote oliver wendell holmes often, someone who experienced the hell of antietam, 16,000 gone. fur 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
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greatest. but 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. thank you. >> let me take my prize. >> take your prize. take your mug. on behalf of the national press club, i would like to thank all veterans for their service. thank you so very much. with that we are adjourned.
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>> if you missed any of our live coverage, it's available to view online c-span.org. we've got more with campaign 2020 with president trump. he's traveling to atlanta to speak at a black voices for trump. watch live on 3:00 eastern on c-span, online at c-span.org or listen live on the free c-span radio app. on his way to georgia this morning, the president stopped to talk to reporters. among other things, the president mentioned that there was a second ukrainian call that had previously been unreported. >> the second call, i guess they want that call to be produced also. you heard that, john. i had a second call with the president, which actually i believe came before this one. now they all want that one. if they want it, i'll give it to
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them. i haven't seen it recently but i'll give it to them. i had a call before this one with the president of ukraine. i understand they would like it, and i have no problem giving it to them. i have no problem. >> watch the c-span networks live next week as the house intelligence committee holds first public impeachment hearings. the committee led by chairman adam schiff will hear from three state department officials starting wednesday 10:00 a.m. eastern on c-span3, top u.s. diplomat in ukraine william taylor and deputy assistant will testify. at 11:30 eastern on c-span2, form he were ambassador to krands marie yovanovitch will testify. find transcripts at c-span.org/impeachment. >> next, the house transportation subcommittee on

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