VA secretary says agency is ready to help veterans after Afghanistan withdrawal

Aug 31, 2021, 10:59 AM | Updated: 11:37 am

Carl T. Hayden Medical Center Director Dr. Alyshia Smith greets Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis Mc...

Carl T. Hayden Medical Center Director Dr. Alyshia Smith greets Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough for a tour of the Phoenix VA Health Care System on Aug. 30, 2021. (Facebook Photo/Phoenix VA Health Care System)

(Facebook Photo/Phoenix VA Health Care System)

PHOENIX – During a trip to Phoenix, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough said his agency is prepared help veterans who may be struggling in response to the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

McDonough told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Arizona’s Morning News on Tuesday he’s been hearing “some anger, disillusionment, disappointment” from Afghanistan veterans.

“We hear you and we’re here for you, including at VA,” he said. “If there are services that our vets need, we’re going to make sure that they can get them, and that they can get them in a timely way.”

McDonough was in the Valley to speak at the American Legion National Convention at the Phoenix Convention Center on Tuesday.

On Monday, he visited several local Veterans Administration facilities, including the Phoenix VA Health Care System’s Carl T. Hayden Medical Center.

He told Arizona’s Morning News there’s been a positive response by veterans to the increased availability of video appointments since the start of the pandemic.

“It was 2,500 video appointments a day back in March 2020. A year later, it’s 45,000 appointments a day,” he said.

He said the Arizona congressional delegation was helpful in securing nearly $15 billion in funding to make more VA appointments available.

“If they [veterans] had to defer care from last year, were making sure that we see them now,” he said. “We’re out in the field talking to vets, scheduling them and getting them in the door, or getting them on the screen to get them taken care of.”

McDonough said that includes mental health services.

“I was over in the West Valley yesterday at the vet center,” he said. “We have five veterans there who are counselors. Two of them are combat vets. If our vets need help, including groups, will get you to those.”

McDonough pledged that the VA, which has been under heavy scrutiny since a 2014 scandal over excessive wait times and falsified records in Phoenix, will be transparent about its performance.

“We have a lot of work to do and we’re going to judge how we do that based on basically two things: Are veterans getting timely access and are they getting better outcomes?,” he said.

“Will be making all those results available to Congress and available to the public. But most of all, we’re going to make sure that we’re transparent with our veterans to make sure that they’re getting in to get the care that they need and getting it a timely way.”

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VA secretary says agency is ready to help veterans after Afghanistan withdrawal