The U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie visited San Antonio Monday for a tour of the Audie L. Murphy Memorial VA Hospital. The trip was part of a pledge he made during his confirmation hearings to “walk the post” assessing different VA campuses.
Wilkie said his visits to Texas help him see the future of the VA.
"No area of the country is growing faster,” he said. “And no area … has a better template for how we have to proceed.”
Wilkie said he's studying the relationships that the South Texas Veterans Healthcare System has with institutions of higher learning like the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio’s School of Nursing.
"America is suffering a nationwide nursing shortage,” he said. “The beauty of the situation here in San Antonio is that the nursing college sends over hundreds of nursing students for their residency and education. The statistic that sticks out in my mind is that 89 percent of those who come here for training decide to stay within VA. And that is a stunning statistic that I really wish was replicated across the country.”
Moody’s Investors Service reported in March that the nursing shortage is most acute in Florida, Georgia, Texas, and California, where “growing and aging populations are combining with low numbers of new nurses entering the workforce.”
Aside from the nursing pipeline, Wilkie pointed out other routes for collaboration.
He said San Antonio's military health system often overlaps with the South Texas VA System. The two systems are technically separate and fall under different cabinet departments. The VA system is part of the Department of Veterans Affairs while the military health system is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Defense.
Wilkie said he’d like to see more cooperation between the two entities across the board.
“The relationship between Audie Murphy and the largest joint base in the Department of Defense is incredibly robust,” he said. “Having come from (Secretary of Defense Jim) Mattis’ world, he and I have both talked about creating robust pollination between our two medical departments. We want to share doctors. We want to share resources. That’s being done here."
Audie Murphy is the 12th VA medical center Wilkie has visited since beginning his tenure six weeks ago.
Before departing from San Antonio, Wilkie also made a personal stop to attend the reunion of his late father's Army regiment. Wilkie's father, Lt. Col. Robert Leon Wilkie Sr., died last year.
“It just so happened that the 83rd Field Artillery Battalion was having its meeting here. My father served in that battalion in 1966. He was a company commander. So I decided that I would come to San Antonio and just see those folks and tell them hello,” Wilkie said. “It was an honor.”
The 83rd Field Artillery Battalion departed for Vietnam in October 1966 and remained there until 1971.
Carson Frame can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @carson_frame