tv Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie Addresses National Press Club CSPAN November 10, 2019 12:39pm-1:44pm EST
jovanovich will appear before the committee. at if the hearings, read witness testimony from the debt -- from the deposition. find the transcripts on c-span.org/impeachment. this veterans day monday on c-span, at 11:00 a.m. eastern, live coverage of the laying of the wreaths of the two of the unknowns. 1989 nbc news broadcast on the fall of the berlin wall and at 10:30, veterans talk about complexities of war on veterans day, watch c-span on tv, online at c-span.org or listen using the free c-span radio app. secretary of veterans affairs, robert wilkie, assessed the performance of his department and its goals for the care of our nation's veterans just before the veterans day holiday at a national press club headliners lunch in. -- luncheon.
this is about one hour. >> good afternoon. we have a really great program ahead and we invite you to listen, watch, or follow along on twitter using the #npcli >> good afternoon, and welcome to the national press club. we have a really great program ahead and we invite you to listen, watch, or follow along on twitter using the #npclive. for our c-span and public radio audiences, please be aware that g
the head table, and id'd like to ask you to please hold your applause until all of the head table guests are introduced. helpful to have the list. 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 legion post here at the national press club. next to captain noon, we have retired u.s. marine corps lieutenant colonel brooks tucker. he's the assistant secretary for the v.a.'s office of congressional and legislative affairs. we have lori rousseau, who is the president of stanton
communications and cochair of the national press club headliners team. we have max ledder, the publisher of "stars and stripes." we have retired u.s. marine corps lieutenant colonel jim burn. he is the number two guy at two deputy secretary at veterans affairs. from my left to right, we have retired lieutenant colonel luke knitig from the mccain institute, and jerry resimski 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, who is the current chief of staff at the office of veterans affairs. 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 our guests just for 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 who we just mentioned. kevin and press club staff liaison lindsey underwood, and membership engagement manager laura coacher, and chef susan dellfer who prepared the lunch, and executive director bill mccarron. thank you all. [applause] i'd also like to give a shoutout
to american legion post 20 which celebrates its 100th 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. [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 the home loans. 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 v.a. system. before being sworn in as v.a. secretary in july of 2018, wilkie served as undersecretary of defense for personnel and
readiness. he is the son of an artillery army commander and spent time at fort bragg. today, he remains an officer in the u.s. air force 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 v.a. secretary robert wilkie. [applause] sec. wilkie: thank you, ladies and gentlemen. thank you so much 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, 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 broadcasts i was taught at an -- broadcasts of edward r. murrow. 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 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. [applause] the other item that i want to use as a point of personal privilege. i just came back from new orleans, and visiting the v.a. hospital and i broke ground on the new fisher house. history, we were privileged to get to know one of new orleans' most prominent families. 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. i am talking about hale and lindsay boggs. we lost a great american earlier this year. her when she would inquent my family's bakery new orleans. she was a regular customer. i became reacquainted with her as an adult and through her work in new orleans helping loyola university getting back on its feet after katrina. she had one piece of advice for me and it came from her father. it was about doing business in washington, particularly in congress. she said the fella that you are arguing with in the morning will probably be the fella 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. i will say i am glad to be back at the press club. ofebrating the anniversary post american legion -- american legion post number 20 here, a post inaugurated by the only ho is below george washington on our protocol card -- who is below george our protocol card. also, the person who found the the here that is one of oldest and now celebrating its 100th anniversary. since the first shots were fired at lexington in april of 1875, -- 1775, 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, even after being told that they either were not healthy enough or younger enough or were not the right color or gender to defend those colors. so who were the americans who were told they could not serve? one of them was a 33-year-old bookworm/farmer from jacksonville county, missouri. -- 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 was a battery called battery d of the field artillery of the missouri national guard. in france, they were known as the dizzy d's. they were 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 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 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 fifth avenue, and 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 1,500 casualties. they received 100 french quad and air. 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 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. he spent months drinking milkshakes and eating banana splits just so he could pass the weight requirement. he couldn't do anything about his 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 base 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 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 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 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 -- visited by a 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 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. 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 his fellow citizens. ladies and gentlemen, that was not berkeley, california, or cambridge, massachusetts, but it was southeastern north carolina, the heart of richard nixon country. but people still stepped forward. one who did was master sergeant 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 saigon 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 airbase. 138 children lost in their lives and 11 airmen. one of them was master sergeant denning johnson. later, i, 44 years accompanied my classmate, denise, to panel 1w 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 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 ofthe -- 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 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 its history. alvin york started life in the army as a conscientious objector, and soon became the greatest american 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 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 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 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, and something that i said, i saw as a young boy when my father as i mentioned could not wear his uniform off of fort bragg. nixon saw it clearly that we had to value the soldiers no matter what the outcome. 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. 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 experience of war. a few years ago, v.a. was not in a very good place. it was scandal after scandal and 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, $220 billion 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, and we finally put the veteran at the center of the care, and not put v.a. 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 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. 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 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 are trying to privatize an institution. so what are my personal reflections? as the leader of this wonderful department. i mentioned that we have turned a great corner. not customer experiences that you would think about it, but customer experience within the veterans department amongst our employees. our satisfaction rates are an all-time high. underneath the headlines, we are embarking on the changes that will make our supply chain a modern, 21st century supply chain. we are reforming our personnel system. an 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 built the moment that young american walks into a 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 to 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. [applause] but we are in the front line of the middle of two crises that are devastating the nation, and the first is the opioid crisis. in 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, ibubuprofen and aspirin but we are 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, this nose would have been flat against my face. it was not part of the ethos. we are setting the standard to offer a multitude of ways to address the pain that came as result of the military service, but the saddest thing that we encounter is veteran suicide. i have been accused of being a
historian, so i think i will plead guilty to that and talk to you a minute about history. now 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 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 is a problem that has been with us for that long. up in a massive ramp suicides prior to the attack in pearl harbor. we saw a massive jump in the days after vietnam. but this is -- 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 amongst those teenagers who had watched a netflix show called "13 reasons why." today, suicide is the number one cause of death for american youth. one day the new york 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 v.a. 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, whole health approach to the issue of suicide by bringing indian health, hhs and dod 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. i do know soldiers. it has been said that most of the federal commissions write reports that the day after become doorstops. i had a great fear for this one. because if we just focused on the last tragic act in the veterans' life, this would be 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 health and 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 the present ever wanted caring for veterans 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 the 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. my mother was not allowed the visit my father when he was recovering from the wound, because it was not part of the ethic. we now 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 v.a., 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 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 a little personal reflection, because i am going to commit a sacrilege. 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, i was a guest at and it was pointed out to me that my great aunt, who ended 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 of this rather eccentric gentleman who used to walk around oxford, mississippi in a 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 -- talk about that. i wanted to reflect was there on what i thought william faulkner always wanted to be and that is a soldier. he came from a long line of soldiers. he had been a mechanic in the canadian air force during world war i, but he had dreamed of being on the front lines. 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, 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 to the soldier that he wanted to be. soldiers that he wanted to be. that i amacrilege about to commit 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 get it right to leave no room for the old verities, the old truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed.
feats in whiche 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 re-learns 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 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 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. [applause] >> secretary wilkie, thank you so much for being here today. we have a lot of questions to get to today. sec. wilkie: no, not in d.c. >> but there are 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. sec. wilkie: right. >> can you talk to us a little
bit about what the v.a. is doing to advance innovations for veterans and pushing those innovations to them? sec. wilkie: sure. forest gump hat on 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 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 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 the veteran, but for the country. let me give you an example. was 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 v.a. hospital in boston. ann mcgee who has been "time's" top 100 influential americans is doing that research in the boston v.a. 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 surviveable 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 for the entire country. it the partnership is a partnership that omar bradley set forth when he was v.a. administrator after world war ii. he said that we want to be the hub of american innovation and it is his goal transjen -- tangentially to have every medical student --v.a. give us a couple of examples of pilots in development within the new v.a. innovation center and when you plan to be releasing some of those? sec. wilkie: i can't because
they are being trotted out for competition, but let me tell you about innovation, and innovative ways of dealing with current problems. mental health, the last great 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, v.a. now has same-day every mental health services, and every vet that comes to us has a mental health screening and just in the last fiscal year, we have screened more than one million veterans for mental health issues. we followed 3000 of those on a daily basis. about pilotou 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 v.a. minneapolis, you will see the leading edge of robotic technology. v.a. robots are now allowing veterans who would have died on the rice patties of vietnam or even on the sands of afghanistan to die are new exoskeletons. it is something that george lucas created and made fiction out of it, but it is reality, and we are awarding the biomedical engineering pilot for robotic arms,
robotic assistance, 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't know, but they did. it was a miraculous thing to see. the third party administrators for the new mission act have reportedly said they need an influx of millions of dollars and a larger network of care to accommodate the veterans seeking services in the private sector. is this new program not going to be able to meet the veterans' needs and what are you doing for this?
sec. wilkie: let me tell you what mission act has done. i don't know why the congress picked june 6. anybody know what that means? d-day. they picked june 6 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 in the field. meaning, paying our bills. we inherited a failing proposition. in getting the new program online, we created a backstop.
there is a company in place working, paying our people, 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 a 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. the veterans of foreign wars, the second largest veteran service organization in the country and in response to the mission, they did their national survey. 90% patient satisfaction rate, but more importantly, 9 of 10 members of the vfw have said
that we want our veterans who are not using v.a. to use v.a. 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. clearly, there have bneen many advances at the v.a. the patientd satisfaction rates are the highest and now with 89.7% i think, and 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 v.a. 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 v.a. learning from this investigation? sec. wilkie: sure. so clarksburg is a national tragedy. there's no two ways about it. we have lost ten world war ii warriors. but let me take a step back. presenting an unfiltered account of what v.a. 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. 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. 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, i apologize to
chicago. who was probably responsible for of 23 of his patients. 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. my first note, i think, and jim burn 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 said 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 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? sec. wilkie: we look at
scheduling. we look at whether we have -- >> you're thinking about changing -- sec. wilkie: 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 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 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
soldiering. he said if somebody is that 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 >> i am going to piggyback on a question that my friend and colleague from bloomberg news asked you last you when you -- last year when you were here. is that the a going to recommend to change the law and allow the v.a. to negotiate drug prices with the industry? sec. wilkie: we already have. i have been there one year and three months. we already have. jim, correct me if i'm wrong. we already have special pricing arrangements. is that correct? >> yeah. sec. wilkie: we are different
from the rest of the government. >> that is good to know. but think about it from a business perspective. we have 9.5 million customers. and we may get more in the next few years. >> i would like to ask a question about austin theiss. a marine corps veteran turned journalist that went missing in syria. when can veterans be doing to support the safe return of austin theiss? sec. wilkie: let me go back to what i said earlier today about my own families experience. with what my father told me about correspondence. i am 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. was captured, i believe, in the september of 2012. a marine corps veteran. and incredibly brave journalist. times when wen think we've known where he was. but me tell you what i think we should continue to do. we celebrate freedoms. we impress upon the culture that what he will do can be incredibly dangerous. support reporters without borders. we engage with congress. and i have found in my career that awareness and constantly repeating a mantra is one of the
most effective things that we can do. lament the demise of the newseum for that one reason. us thatserve to remind the first freedom in this country is you all. thingsent as with most in american life is key. say that weppy to theiss back. >> we do. [applause] you mentioned that there would probably be an influx of more veterans coming into the system. may be the of this bluewater vietnam veteran disability claims.
will an influx of planes slow down processing? >> that is a good question. i'm telling a journalist it is an interesting question. let me tell you a bit about the washington quandary. >> and we're down to two minutes and i would like to ask one more question. we have been preparing and hiring more people but we were moving out under a payingrder to begin claims earlier this year. said we can't start paying claims until january 1. protesters wondering why i am not paying those bills even though congress told us i can do until january 1.
we will be the one department working on january 1 to process those claims. delays and cost overruns came out. estimates for the facilities have been off by as much as 200%. why is this happening and what are you doing to address it? veterans cemeteries are probably as important as anything we do. opened one in western new york. i don't know how old that gao report is. but they probably stopped reporting a long time ago. budget an all-time high
for the cemeteries. is federalproblems acquisition regulations. it prevents us from doing certain things. california, i couldn't build a clinic in bakersfield because the regulations saying it was within eyesight of a letter store. they need a clinic. withame thing is happening cemeteries all over the country. >> before i give you the final questions i want to mention a couple of upcoming events. the 100thparty for anniversary of american legion post 20 on november 19. and we have an upcoming with formerunch georgia house democratic leader stacey abrams.
that we also have a eachtion of giving esteemed speaker a national press club mug. now you have a collection. i hope it grows. question.more final opinion, who is the greatest living veteran? sec. wilkie: i would never say it. 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 category is reflected in the person of murphy. it small to go to the marine corps.
too small to go to the army air corps. by an accident got into the u.s. army and was the most decorated soldier of world war ii. service, to me, is service. i quote oliver wendell holmes. someone who experienced the hell of antietam. four times as many people lost then the entire d-day campaign. people called upon to do extraordinary things. you can't put a price on it and you can't say who was the greatest. is great to reflect on everyone that has done the job. >> thank you for speaking with us today. it is a real honor.
[applause] 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. [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2019] >> on the sunday news programs, much of the focus was on the impeachment inquiry. this week's public hearings and the republicans list of requested witnesses which includes hunter biden, the whistleblower and some government officials who have already testified hind closed doors. -- behind closed doors. >>