Veterans Affairs Secretary says changes are coming

Capitol Bureau

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) — U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (KS-01) was joined by U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Robert Wilkie, on Monday at the Topeka VA Medical Hospital. Moran and Wilkie toured the hospital and met with patients and staff to discuss health care for veterans.

After years of criticism, the VA is working to improve services to veterans. In June, President Trump signed the Mission Act, an expansion and replacement of the prior Veterans Choice Act. The Mission Act expands access to care for veterans, both at the VA as well as in the community. The act also expands benefits for family caregivers of veterans.

U.S. Army veteran, Dan Wentling, says the care he receives from the VA hospital in Topeka has always been excellent.

“This VA here is by far one of the better ones that I’ve ever heard of,” he said.

In fact, Secretary Wilkie says that the Topeka VA Hospital is the best in the nation.

“This center has the highest patient satisfaction rates of any center in the country; it sits at 90 percent,” says Wilkie.

But both Wentling and Secretary Wilkie said changes need to be made. Wilkie says Kansas is at the forefront of changes to the VA. Wilkie says Kansans need better rural access.

“More than half of our veterans are in rural or native America and that is why it’s important to be here in Kansas as we send out telehealth to our most remote areas, as we integrate this facility with community hospitals and with the university systems in the state,” explains Wilkie. “This is really the testing ground for everything that we’re doing.”

Senator Moran says this includes better access to mental health providers for veterans.

“We need to train more, educate more, we need to compensate better but we also need to bring in others who can service in particularly rural, but across Kansas, for veterans who are not receiving the care they need,” he says.

Senator Moran adds that services like marriage and family therapists are an important addition that he would like to see added to VA benefits. Senator Moran says that he has also asked Secretary Wilkie to consider Kansas to be the next state to receive what are called “pods,” that would allow veterans to video call health professionals.

“Could be at the drug store or a store in the community, could be at a church, in which a veteran can put themselves in a position to be able to talk to the VA in privacy,” explains Senator Moran.

Wentling welcomes the measures being taken but said veterans need to know how to access help.

“We are kind of proud and stuff and don’t reach out when we should or when we could and I think that’s part of it,” said Wentling. “But I think part of it too is the awareness and making them aware that there are these programs that they can get.”

Wentling adds that one of his main concerns is the lack of housing options for homeless and elderly veterans.

“In the state of Kansas right now, there’s only two veterans homes…and I think that there needs to be more,” says Wentling. “Since there’s only a couple, they’re limited on what they can take in and what the requirements are to get in to them. Maybe if there’s more, more veterans can utilize them.”

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