Listen: The Mission Act looks to give more healthcare options to veterans
"We're going to spend the next few minutes talking about something that we don't often see in washington these days a bill that passed congress with overwhelming bipartisan support it's called the mission act and starting this week it will bring big changes to the department of veterans affairs particularly when it comes to health care the law expands the number of veterans who qualify for private care that is reimbursed by v._a. today i spoke with the secretary of veterans affairs robert wilkie and he told me the number of veterans seeking healthcare outside the v._a. has actually gone down recently so i asked the secretary if that's the case how many people does he expect to take advantage of this expansion i don't see that large arise the way the system is set up is that the veteran will come to us we will tell him that we cannot provide a service and because he lives outside a certain number of minutes from v._a. facility and we're telling him that the wait time is greater than twenty days then he has the option of going into the private sector as you know critics are afraid that this is a move towards privatising v._a. healthcare explain why you disagree with view well just presented a two hundred twenty billion dollar budget a budget that also calls for an employee base of three hundred ninety thousand ten years ago the budget was ninety eight billion and we had two hundred eighty thousand employees so if we're going about privatizing this we're going about it in very strange way but on its surface doesn't expanding eligibility for private care constitute a shift away from government provided health care whether or not this is part of as critics would accuse some kind of trojan horse larger project well no not if you read the mission act my goal is to provide the best possible healthcare because it's not only the right thing to do but the congress said it right there in the legislation and because of the nature of our patient base people like my father suffered terrible combat wounds cambodia there's nothing in the private sector that is going to understand or take care of someone who has suffered that kind of trauma in battle there's just no other place like i'd like to talk about another important topic which is expanding efforts to prevent veteran suicide the v._a. has had this is the highest clinical priority something like twenty veterans die each day by suicide and this number has for the most part been pretty consistent why after years of making this a priority hasn't the v._a. been able to make a real improvement in this area well i don't think the country has made it a priority i've said that we need a national conversation on mental health homelessness in addiction you're in charge of the v._a. so let's talk about what the v._a.'s doing yeah well the v._a. has got very specific programs every veteran who comes to us gets a mental health screening every veteran who comes to us has same day mental health services so why haven't the numbers improved here's the problem all of these cases are not related give you an example fourteen of the twenty take their lives are veterans that we have no contact with a couple are on active duty several are on guard and reserve duty and never deployed and the bulk are from the vietnam era lyndon johnson left washington d._c. fifty years ago in january and many of these problems have been brewing ever since that time so we're not going to be able to get these numbers erased but we have to change the culture that we start training troops from the time they get into boot camp to the time they leave not only on their own mental health but to see signs in their buddies and also say veterans crisis line get seventeen hundred calls a day of those seventeen hundred we act on two to three hundred calls where we send people out and we get those veterans help does the have enough mental health providers right now well we are in the same position the united states is in we were able to hire thirty nine hundred mental health professionals last year i think n._p._r.'s covered the fact that most of our medical schools are sending their students into the most expensive specialties out there and v._a. i just as the rest of america sucks secretary wilkie the last thing i would like to ask you about is surprising moment that happened on the campaign trail recently where congressman seth monta massachusetts he's a veteran running for the democratic nomination did four combat tours in iraq and at a campaign event last week he spoke very frankly and openly about his experience with this is what he told n._p._r. about that moment now applying to leave the country and i think it'd be different anyways not to lead by example and share my own story about my own struggle with the issues what's your reaction to seeing this kind of an honest conversation happening in a form as prominent as a presidential campaign well it is about time it is about time we are seeing a generational shift in the armed forces of the united states where we finally talk about these things we don't hide them the military is a conservative institutions for many reasons and one of them is it takes a long time to change but the more we hear voices like this the more we talk about it i think will be in a much better"