Remarks by Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson - Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs
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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson

Fayetteville VA Health Care Center Ribbon-Cutting
Fayetteville, NC
January 4, 2016

Today is a great day for Veterans in Fayetteville, Cumberland Country, and the surrounding area!

In recent years, demand for VA care has been going up—both nationally and here at the Fayetteville VA Healthcare System—creating a critical gap in the space required to support modern-day health-care delivery. Today, in Fayetteville, we take a big step toward closing that gap.

The Ramsey Street VA Hospital was a monument to the Veterans of World War I when it opened 75 years ago, in 1940. This new VA Health Care Center is our monument to the Veterans of every war since. As they enter this marvelous building, we will be affirming the gratitude of the American people, delivering the message, “Thank you for your service and sacrifice to our country.”

We have made many improvements in access to care in North Carolina. We’ve established the first free-standing dialysis clinic in VA and the first two Veterans treatment courts in North Carolina. We’ve also added collaborations with DoD at Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune, including a soon-to-open rehabilitation center jointly staffed by VA and Womack Army Medical Center.

Last month, Secretary McDonald proposed expanding disability compensation for Veterans exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, adding eight conditions, including kidney cancer and liver cancer presumed to be connected to the contamination. This is an issue of great concern to the North Carolina Congressional delegation and the Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and we are grateful for their support on this issue.

Notwithstanding all these improvements, we still have more work to do. Wait times are still too high, in part because more Veterans are coming to VA for more of their care. Here in the Fayetteville area, the number of Veterans receiving care has risen 13 percent in the last two years—and 160 percent since 2000. So we will continue to work to improve all aspects of Veterans’ care.

I’m often asked what gives me the confidence that we can be successful in transforming the Department. It’s our people, over 100,000 of whom are Veterans themselves. They care about our mission, do the right thing, and work hard to care for Veterans every day.

Unfortunately, that isn’t how VA staff are often characterized. So I would like to share a quick story that I hope will shed light on the kind of people serving our Veterans here at VA.

Last month, at our Denver medical center’s mental health clinic, a distressed Veteran took Nurse Practitioner Kathy Rittenhouse hostage. Armed with a loaded pistol and two boxes of ammunition, the Veteran’s stated purpose was to be killed by police—suicide by cop. Experienced and highly trained, Kathy calmed the Veteran and persuaded him to let her make a phone call.

When VA Police Officer Greg Crenshaw arrived, he persuaded the Veteran to take him as hostage in place of Kathy, putting himself in harm’s way to rescue her. In the process of taking Kathy’s place, Greg disarmed the Veteran and resolved the crisis without any physical harm to anyone.

All this happened in 13 minutes.

Now, it would have been very easy for Kathy and Greg to wait for the SWAT team and the hostage negotiators already on the way. But they didn’t. They acted based on their commitment to Veterans, their desire to do the right thing, and their considerable training. In doing so, I believe, they saved lives.

A quick postscript: After the crisis, the team got together and insisted that this Veteran not be sent somewhere else for his inpatient mental health care. They want to care for him there, at their facility, with their staff. This is who we are.

These, and many thousands of others, are the caring people we are lucky to call colleagues—the doctors, nurses, therapists, psychologists, technicians, and support staff—like those who bring this building to life every day.

So yes, today is about a ribbon-cutting ceremony for an incredible new facility. But it’s also about the passion and the perseverance of good people and their vision for a better future for our Nation’s Veterans.

We owe thanks to leaders and partners who helped create a vision for this new clinic and make it a reality, including Members of Congress: Chairman Isakson, Senator Burr, and Senator Tillis, and Representatives David Price and Renee Ellmers. Thank you all for your support for Veterans and VA.

Thanks also to my colleagues, Dan Hoffman, our Network Director, and Betty Goolsby, our Medical Center Director, for your leadership and service.

This new clinic stands as a brick and mortar symbol of how we will continue to transform VA—our overarching initiative to best serve Veterans and encourage them to see the Department as belonging to them. We call it MyVA.

This transformation, like everything we do, will be successful because of our unwavering commitment to care for those who have served us so well. When we work together, collaboratively and constructively on behalf of Veterans, there are no limits to what we can achieve.

To all in the audience—thank you for coming and supporting our Veterans.

May God bless all who serve and have served our Nation in uniform, and may He continue to bless this wonderful country of ours.