United States Veterans Affairs Secretary talks pandemic with 7NEWS

United States VA Secretary talks pandemic with 7NEWS

LAWTON, Okla. (TNN) - According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, over 14,000 veterans have tested positive for COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.

United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie says his department responded quickly once the pandemic started.

“We have never closed. We have never run out of equipment. Our people are standing their post. We’re almost a military organization, about 40 percent of our 400,000 employees are veterans. We know the culture, we speak the language. We want veterans to know we are there, we are open, but if they have any questions, call the crisis line,” Wilkie said.

Despite that quick response, Wilkie says we’re not out of the woods yet.

“Concern for us is what might happen in the fall or winter. If there is a major revolve, not what we’re seeing now, but a repeat of what America saw in New Orleans but more importantly in New York and New Jersey where the civilian system was overwhelmed and we at VA actually had to open our hospitals to bring in non-veterans because civilian hospitals could not handle the load,” Wilkie said.

Wilkie, who lived in Comanche County while his father was stationed at Fort Sill, says they’ve been taking extra steps to help veterans amid the pandemic, particularly Native American veterans.

“We’ve expanded our footprint into Native American country, not just for Native American veterans who serve in greater numbers per capita than any other group. But we’re out there, our nurses are actually learning the languages of the different nations of the American West. To provide health care, we’ve joined up with the Indian Health Service. One of my goals is to be more closely attached to them so we can share resources,” Wilkie said.

The pandemic has changed how much of the country operates but Wilkie says it has allowed them to improve services that help veterans here in southwest Oklahoma.

“Particularly for rural Oklahoma, a place I’m very familiar with, we’ve expanded our telehealth capability, so people don’t have to be forced to come into see us. They can communicate with us through the computer, through our secure communications, I think this is a huge step forward, even in the midst of this crisis that we find other ways for veterans to connect with VA and also to get their health care,” Wilkie said.

If you need to reach the VA, you can call the crisis number at 800-273-8255 or you can go to their website.

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