By Ms. Samantha Reho (ARNEWS)February 24, 2010
FORT BLISS, Texas - More than 50 veterans gathered Feb. 19 to hear Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki speak about his goals to improve the quality of life for veterans at the El Paso VA Health Care System facility.
Shinseki, also a member of President Obama's Cabinet, was hosted by three local members of Congress, including Rep. Silvestre Reyes, Rep. Ciro Rodriguez and Rep. Harry Teague.
During Shinseki's visit, he toured the VA facility and the Fort Bliss National Cemetery, and he participated in a veterans roundtable before addressing the public on the purpose of his visit.
In his speech, he addressed three specific goals targeting programs affecting the nation's veterans: reducing the growing backlog of claims, improving the quality of VA health care facilities and eliminating homelessness among all veterans.
Teague agreed that "there is a definite culture change happening within the area of veterans affairs."
Regarding the backlog, Shinseki has established four pilot projects in Pittsburgh; Little Rock, Ark.; Providence, R.I.; and Baltimore that will help the department identify how to simplify claims and minimize obstacles that keep veterans from registering with the VA.
As for the second goal, he shared that the 2011 budget, while under review, includes a financial increase for the Veterans Benefits Administration, which will allow for more medical personnel and better facilities.
Even though more than 131,000 veterans are homeless, Shinseki stressed he won't be able to take them all off of the street; rather, he spoke of the importance of opening up jobs and enhancing education for veterans, utilizing new programming and funding, such as the GI Bill.
Shinseki said the Obama administration is planning to increase the Veteran Affairs budget by 15 percent in 2010, which is the largest increase in more than 20 years.
As for Shinseki's goals, Teague and the other congressmen said they have absolute confidence in his leadership and that he will accomplish all he can during his term.
"He openly addresses the hurdles we face in the VA," Teague said. "He's not trying to sweep them under the carpet."