Remarks by Secretary Robert Wilkie - Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs
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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Secretary Robert Wilkie

American Freedom Foundation’s 7th Annual Warriors to the Workforce Symposium (Virtual)
Washington, DC
September 16, 2020

I’m Robert Wilkie.

President Eisenhower once advised Korean War Veterans, “Never put away your uniform. You exist to remind your fellow citizens that the cost of freedom is never free, and to remind your fellow Americans why they sleep soundly at night.”

Every year, 200,000 Veterans like those Eisenhower addressed come home. Helping them integrate into communities and the workforce is our duty, and I thank you for helping us fulfill that sacred obligation.

For those of you transitioning and those who left the ranks not long ago, I’ll echo the symposium’s theme: engage, explore, empower yourselves, set your own vision, and chart your own path.

Transitioning is a daunting task. Even after you’ve served in dangerous places under demanding conditions, the loss of camaraderie, re-adjustment to family life, and the job search are all challenging. But organizations like the American Freedom Foundation are supporting you, and VA is here to help you access all the benefits that you’ve earned.

A great start is the Transition Assistance Program, known as TAP. But it’s not the only resource. VA Solid Start Program representatives are reaching out during your first year after leaving the military to ensure you’re getting access to every benefit and service you’ve earned. Our Personalized Career Planning and Guidance offers expert counseling, assessments, education planning, and other resources to help achieve your goals.

VA education benefits can cover some or all the education costs as you move into new careers. And VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program offers disabled Veterans a host of services, from skills evaluations to resume development and, should you need them, independent living services.

And despite COVID, the Veterans Benefits Administration is open for business through virtual means, helping with claims, home loans, education assistance, and so many other benefits. I encourage you to use these resources and connect with a VA that’s getting better and better.

Under the Trump administration, we’ve implemented transformative bills like the MISSION Act, the Forever GI Bill and Appeals Reform, and we’re closer than ever on electronic health records. But what makes me most proud is that we’re implementing these and other significant reforms without missing a beat in serving you.

VA of today is a story of innovation, modernized systems, and satisfied Veterans. We’re also making VA a welcome home for women Veterans, offering more services than ever before. And they like what they see. Last year, nearly 84 percent of our women patients said they trusted VA care, and 41 percent of all women Veterans are enrolled, and that number is rising.

Let me close by reinforcing my top clinical priority, and that is preventing Veteran suicide, an especially important topic when talking about the transition to civilian life and the big changes that come along with it.

The story of Veteran suicide hasn’t changed much in more than a century. But it can be changed. Prevention requires a nation-wide public health approach. The President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide, called PREVENTS, is building a network of big and small companies like those here today – faith-based organizations, non-profits, and many others. PREVENTS is helping Veterans in crisis know about and get the mental health services they need, whether that’s with VA or another resource.

It’s a mission critical task for all of us.

Former Sergeant Major of the Army Tilley, Ted Hacker, and everyone at this important summit, thanks for your work and deep devotion to America’s Veterans.

On the night before General Matthew Ridgway launched the airborne liberation of Europe, he relied on the promise God made to Joshua: "I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.”

Working together, we will neither fail nor forsake you.