HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - New U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie met with Hawaii’s VA leaders Thursday, passing along assurances that he believes he can revamp the department that cares for America’s military veterans.
“Reform is primarily leadership,” said Wilkie, who has visited with VA leaders in 21 states since he assumed leadership of the agency.
Under his leadership, Wilkie promised the group that he would pay close attention to the VA’s Western Region, an area which includes Hawaii, Samoa, Guam and the Northern Marianas Islands — an area where 129,000 veterans live.
“I need to make sure our delivery is efficient and that our veterans are taken care of,” he said. “We’re fighting for the same types of medical professionals that private healthcare systems are fighting for.”
Among other things, Wilkie says he wants to hire more people to help with neighbor island services, an issue that has plagued the VA in Hawaii. It was a different tune that the one sung by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, when she accused the agency of making empty promises and excuses.
"There are still too many of our brothers and sisters across the country who are still not getting the care and benefits they have earned and deserve," she said at a press conference.
Wilkie believes the department is now moving in the right direction, and vows that the computer problems that interrupted payments of GI Bill benefits won’t happen again. He says he’s encouraged by Hawaii’s efforts to reach homeless veterans, as well as the use of tele-medicine to service veterans in outlying areas, including those suffering from PTSD and other emotional issues.
“It is much better for a veteran to be on the other end of a computer, rather than bringing him or her into a large room with people and have them feel the pressure of that environment,” he said.