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VA Sec. McDonald's First State visit includes medical professional recruitment at UD

Karl Malgiero/Delaware Public Media

US Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald followed up his Monday Wilmington VA hospital visit at the University of Delaware - continuing a nationwide effort that began in August to entice medical students to seriously consider making a career with the VA.

Nursing students enrolled at UD gathered at the STAR Campus for the latest stop on Secretary McDonald’s nationwide push to recruit future health professionals employed at the VA.

McDonald hopes to improve access for nearly 20 million US citizens who have served in the armed forces and are in need of medical care.

McDonald says compensation and other incentives are important when attracting the best and brightest, but adds that the number one priority is finding people who want to make a difference.

“The VA’s a place you can do that," McDonald said. "You can come to work, you can care for people who put their lives at risk for those of us in this country. I think that’s inspiring. The values - I think they’re inspiring.”

McDonald is working to restructure the agency since his appointment last July following federal investigations uncovering major scheduling problems resulting in the deaths of at least 40 veterans at a Phoenix, Arizona VA facility.

He says VA hospitals are especially equipped to deal with the unique situations of their patients and timely access to familiar staff makes a big difference.

“At the VA we know what conditions veterans have and we’re better able to treat them. Many of them are now catastrophic injuries from battlefields," said McDonald.  "So veterans want to be treated by people who know their issues and can deal with them.”

In the wake of last year’s scandal the department has taken steps to expand capacity and improve access for nearly 20 million veterans – less than half of which are enrolled for VA healthcare.

A proposed increase in pay ranges for physicians and dentists, new academic and department of defense partnerships, improved credentialing processes and student loan repayment programs are just a few of the recent measures taken.

Senator Tom Carper (D-Delaware), himself a veteran of the US Navy, compared potential employees to that of government cybersecurity experts.

“Could they make more money on the outside?" Carper asked. "They could make five, ten times more money - and in some cases they have. The reason why they’re working in the Department of Homeland Security to protect our homeland is the importance of that work and the satisfaction it gives them for helping a whole nation.”

Currently 9 million veterans are enrolled in VA healthcare and receive attention at over 1200 medical centers, community based outpatient clinics and other veterans center locations.

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