Q&A With VA Secretary Robert Wilkie

Dec 27, 2019

The number of veterans in North Carolina is quickly rising as more of them choose to settle here. That's led the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to shift more resources to the state. It's opened several small medical clinics and hospital-sized outpatient centers around North Carolina, and has more planned in coming years, including major projects in Raleigh and Jacksonville.

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie was in North Carolina earlier this month. He talked with WUNC military and veterans affairs reporter Jay Price.

Wilkie is in charge during one of the biggest eras of change in VA history. He's still dealing with the lingering effects of the scandal over long wait times at some VA medical facilities, and he's overseeing a complex effort to overhaul veterans’ access to private care, part of the law called the Mission Act.

The VA also is deeply involved in the struggle to figure out ways to reduce the high rate of suicide among veterans.

Against that backdrop, the massive VA healthcare system is trying to keep up with shifts in where its patients are, and it's rolling out technological innovations like telehealth clinics, including one inside an Asheboro Walmart that Wilkie, on his recent trip to North Carolina, visited for the ribbon cutting.

Wilkie, whose father was an Army officer, went to high school in Fayetteville. He graduated from Wake Forest University and worked for two U.S. senators from North Carolina, so he knows the state well.

Among other things during the interview, he talked about how the VA is reacting to the growth in North Carolina's veterans population.