Remarks by Secretary Eric K. Shinseki
May 24, 2011
Good morning and Hafa adai!
I’m honored to be here. Over nearly four decades of military service, I’ve passed through Guam a number of times, usually never long enough to have a meal, but just to gas and go. This time, with Governor Calvo’s hospitality, I may have the chance to finally try some red rice and chicken kelaguen.
I’ve served as Secretary of Veterans Affairs for almost two and a half years now, and in that time VA has focused on three key priorities:
- Expanding access to VA benefits and services for Veterans of all generations;
- Reducing the frustrating claims backlog;
- And ending the shame of Veterans homelessness.
Opening this clinic today is fulfilling part of that first priority---in expanding access---just the first step in a major shift in how VA provides healthcare.
Shortly after the American Civil War, VA began building large Soldiers homes in major cities, which became the first Veterans hospitals. Several are still in use today by VA. For many years, VA relied upon these hospitals to care for Veterans, expecting Veterans to come to them.
Then, about a decade or so ago, someone brilliant at VA devised a system for pushing healthcare delivery out to the cities, towns, and villages where Veterans actually live. Clinics like this one are intended to provide about 90 percent of Veterans’ day-to-day needs. If we do that right, patient well-being increases, episodes of acute care are reduced, and Veterans are healthier, happier, and more in control of their lives---but they have a role to play, and they must help, if the entire system is to work. And that role is active involvement in their well-being. It’s based on the concept of continuity of care and long-term wellness. Well-being is more the product of good living rather than physician’s skills---diet, exercise, weight control, regular check-ups, attitude. No doctor prescribes these over the counter.
And when, in the 5-10 percent of the time that acute care is needed, Veterans would be cared for in one of our superb medical centers. Today, we still operate a constellation of 152 medical centers, but those flagship hospitals are now supported by a much larger network of 800 Community-Based Outpatient Clinics like this one, another 300 Vet Centers, and even mobile clinics on wheels to reach the most remote areas where Veterans have chosen to live.
The old VA community clinic in Guam---built in 1989---was, in fact, early validation of this adaptive access strategy.
Beyond building more clinics and hospitals, expanding access also means electronically connecting medical specialists---wherever they exist in the national healthcare system---to remotely located patients. We intend to overcome the tyranny of distance.
We have invested heavily in telehealth technology---$284 million in the last two years---because we see it as the next great advance in healthcare delivery, and we want to be at the leading edge.
The result will routinely be more convenient, higher-quality, and more consistent healthcare for Veterans, especially in remote places like Guam.
The new clinic we dedicate today is almost twice the size of the old clinic---both in capacity and in services provided. And while we will continue to depend greatly on our partnership with the Navy, Veterans coming to this clinic will no longer need to pass through security to get here---good for Veterans; good for the Navy.
I’d like to thank Congresswoman Bordallo for helping us to build this Community-Based Outpatient Clinic. Most of you know that she has been pushing for this clinic for many years in Washington. As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, she has also been a tireless advocate for our men and women in uniform. Important business precluded her being here today, but I’m pleased that her chief of staff, John Whitt, who has also played a key role in acquiring this clinic, is here to represent her.
I’d also like to thank Admiral Bushong and Captain Haws for helping shoulder our responsibility for caring for our Veterans here in Guam.
VA is expanding its collaborations with DoD in many areas. Guam is one of those places where DoD’s collaboration is especially vital.
Finally, I’d like to thank Governor Calvo, Judge Unpingco, and the people of Guam for supporting our Veterans and for sharing their beautiful island with us.
As we all prepare for our Memorial Day observance, this is a time for remembrance, reflection, and respect for those who gave their lives in defense of our nation. It is also an important reminder that we also honor our fallen by caring for those with whom they served, who came home.
God bless those who serve and have served the Nation, and may God continue to bless this wonderful country of ours.