Veterans Affairs secretary tours Michigan sites delivering praise on COVID-19 response

"My first mission was to thank employees of the VA for not only serving veterans, but serving the community. We have had dozens of nurses dispatched throughout the state to help hospitals, nursing homes, that is part of our mission," said Robert Wilkie.

Wilkie, secretary of Veterans Affairs, spent the last couple of days touring three Michigan VA hospitals. Our state has been one of the hardest hit by COVID-19. But Wilkie considers it ground zero when it came to how the VA should work.

As COVID-19, cases began to soar, for the first time two VA hospitals in Detroit and Ann Arbor opened to non-veteran patients.

"The fourth mission is to help the nation in case of a national emergency," he said. "That's what we do. So, in New York and Detroit we opened our hospital to people outside the veterans' community, in order to serve them." 

Latest numbers show the Department of Veterans Affairs has recorded more than 20,000 cases of the coronavirus and more than 2,000 infected employees.

Those numbers prevented VA hospitals from scheduling well visits and elective surgeries for veterans and forced mental health to be treated by phone or virtually.

"It is vital because we need to be where the veterans are," Wilkie said. "If they can't come in here, we have to go to them.  We have to protect them and protect ourselves so opening the aperture on telehealth and telemedicine is a great way to do that. And with mental health, that is what experts say is the wave of the future. You do not put pressure on people to come in; you do not put pressure on their families to bring them in. You allow them to visit us from the comfort of their own home." 

Wilkie applauded the VA Department for providing supplies and medical professionals to assist with the pandemic. It has also helped with unemployment. 

Wilkie says in the last seven weeks it has hired more than 22,000 people and 5,000 nurses.

"It is not only important for our veterans, it is important for our economy," he said. "It is also important for the community."