Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

VA Secretary Wilkie addresses veteran health concerns during Delaware visit

Sarah Mueller
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie and Sen. Tom Carper among those listening to a UD presentation of its Patient Experience Academy.

U.S. Veteran Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie was at the University of Delaware Monday to see a new hospitality program for VA staff.

UD faculty introduced Wilkie and Sen. Tom Carper to its new Patient Experience Academy. The academy teaches hospitality techniques to VA providers from the Wilmington Veterans Affairs Medical Center and doctor offices in New Jersey and Delaware.

Wilkie also discussed health concerns veterans have voiced about burn pits. The military has used open air pits to burn trash in overseas locations like Afghanistan and Iraq. Veterans have complained of developing chronic diseases from breathing in the fumes.

Wilkie said he takes the concerns seriously - and worked on legislation that created the burn pit registry. It lets the government know which veterans have been affected.

“The Department of Defense has the lead right now because they’re doing the research," he said. "And I expect that when they’re finished, having that registry in place, we will start processing people.”

Wilkie said health problems caused by Agent Orange, a chemical used by the military during the Vietnam War, weren’t addressed until the 1990’s. He says he doesn’t want similar inaction repeated.

The secretary is expected to roll out new VA rules under the Mission Act by the beginning of June. The law expands access to private medical care for veterans who have to drive long distances to VA facilities or face long appointment waits at clinics.

Wilkie is asking for about $220 billion for the VA for Fiscal Year 2020. He said it’s enough to fully implement the new law.

“The one thing that I think Sen. Carper will agree on an certainly his colleagues on the other side agree on - we don’t really cut corners with our department,” he said.

But some veterans groups argue his proposed budget isn’t enough to fully fund the law and leaves a significant shortfall for community care programs.

Some Democrats claim the Mission Act is moving the VA toward privatization. But Carper said he doesn’t think there’s an appetite to privatize the VA.

Related Content