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Remarks for White House Veterans Event

Eric D. Hargan
White House Veterans Affairs Conference with State, Local and Tribal Leaders.
November 29, 2017
Washington, DC

We are always looking for more ways to better coordinate with veterans-specific agencies at the federal, state and local levels. Partnerships are such a key part of what we do, and serving veterans does run deep within HHS’s history.

As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you for that introduction, Doug [Hoelscher]. Good afternoon everyone, and thank you for joining us here at the White House today.

Thank you in particular to each and every one of you here who is a veteran yourself, for your service to our country.

And thank you to all of you for the work you do—whether as veterans’ affairs officers, as members of veterans’ service organizations, as legislators, as tribal leaders, or in any other capacity.

It’s a pleasure to be here and to get to share how the Department of Health and Human Services brings our resources and expertise to bear on behalf of America’s veterans.

President Trump has made it so clear how much respect he has for our nations’ veterans, and how little tolerance he has for providing them with substandard services and care. So we have been proud to do our part in living up to the President’s high standards in the work we do at HHS.

It is a special privilege for us to provide healthcare and human services to America’s veterans—and it’s a special privilege for me, as the son of an Air Force sergeant.

My dad served in the Korean War as a mechanic and later served as commander of his VFW post in Mounds, Illinois, where I grew up.

Do we have some VFW representatives here today? I have some very happy memories of spending time with my father at VFW Post 8891.

To give you a sense of how we at HHS interact with veterans, it’s helpful to look at the scope of what HHS does each and every day, because the programs we run and services we provide touch the lives of most of the people you serve.

The biggest part of our budget—more than 90 percent of it, in fact—is the provision of health coverage to tens of millions of Americans through Medicare and Medicaid.

We provide support for substance abuse prevention, treatment and recovery services through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, known as SAMHSA.

We do public health and scientific research through the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

We also provide health services directly through the Indian Health Service and the Health Resources and Services Administration, known as HRSA.

And we provide human services through the Administration for Children and Families, which provides supports for low-income and unemployed individuals and families, and through the Administration for Community Living, which provides services and supports for older Americans and Americans with disabilities.

Through these programs, we touch the lives of just about every single American, including our veterans.

Therefore, much of the role we play in caring for our veterans is through making sure these programs work for them, and we’re devoted to making sure they’re well-coordinated with the services provided through DOD, the VA and other agencies.

One of the ways we do that is through our HHS regional offices, which we have in 10 cities around the country—we’re committed to empowering them in new ways to help meet the needs of citizens and public servants who interact with them.

Another big piece of HHS’s physical presence around the country is the thousands of community health centers we fund, which provided care to 305,000 veterans in 2015.

These community health centers, run through the agency I mentioned called HRSA, have been active participants in the Veterans Choice program to help vets get care from non-VA facilities when needed.

But beyond these kinds of activities, we also contribute our resources and expertise in service delivery, public health, and science in meeting particular needs veterans have or filling temporary gaps in service coverage.
If the men and women of the VA serve on the front lines of veterans’ services, doing the bulk of the work to get our veterans the healthcare and services they need, think of us as, from time to time, the staff officers, the XOs, the logistics corps, and the reserves.

One example of us coming in as the reserves is an agreement we announced earlier this year to detail doctors from the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps to VA medical centers and clinics in need of supplemental staffing.

We are still working on getting that initiative fully up and running, but we are excited for the potential of the Commissioned Corps to contribute to advancing the quality and availability of care within the VA.
In particular, it will be a great example of veterans helping veterans, as the Commissioned Corps are members of our uniformed services too.

And some of them are veterans of the armed forces, too: We’re proud that more than 6,000 of HHS’s 79,000 employees are veterans, and we take veterans hiring very seriously.

Another program where we’ve been glad to lend a hand is the Veteran-Directed Home and Community Based Services program run by the VA.

Under the program, veterans who are eligible for VA funding for nursing homes are able to stay in their own homes instead by using a home and community based services model.

They’re able to hire the home health aides, nurses, or whatever help they need at a fraction of the cost of staying in a nursing home, while maintaining their independence.

And they are truly independent: The program is, as you can tell from the name, “veteran directed,” meaning the vet has the freedom to determine what kind of help they need.

This has been possible in part because the program uses the networks of aging and disabled services that HHS oversees and funds through our Administration for Community Living.

It’s a great example of how we’ve been able to put people in charge of their own care at a much lower cost than we might have otherwise.

There are other special circumstances where we work for veterans in particular, so I’ll mention some of those:

  • We know that many veterans, for a variety of reasons, have suffered especially from the opioid crisis that’s hit our country. So SAMHSA, our mental health and substance abuse agency, has worked closely with the VA and DOD to ensure the right resources are getting to veterans, building on years’ worth of work in suicide prevention.
  • As just one example, in September we launched a 6-year, $81 million collaborative effort among the National Institutes of Health, DOD, and the VA to advance our understanding of pain management.
  • We are also in the process of setting up a Pain Management Best Practices Interagency Task Force, which will have participation by DOD and VA, and, we hope, input from veterans service organizations as well.
  • I’d love to talk more about HHS’s work on opioids in general if you all are interested.
  • SAMHSA has also begun working on ways to help veterans get involved in behavioral health professions, like substance abuse counseling—again, another chance for vets to help vets.
  • Outside of the healthcare world, our Administration for Children and Families is working on a pilot model for tailoring the federal child support work they do to the special circumstances of active duty service-members, veterans, and their families.
  • Our Office on Women’s Health is educating women veterans and providing technical assistance to health care professionals to improve care for women veterans, a rapidly growing population with unique needs.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health are world leaders in public health and scientific research, and have partnered closely with the VA and DOD on research specific to service members and vets, on issues like traumatic brain injury.
  • The community health centers I mentioned actually extend well beyond the shores of the continental U.S. These centers, and their telehealth operations, play an important role in ensuring that our Pacific Islander veterans have access to quality healthcare. And that will help lay the groundwork for our cooperation with the VA on their much larger telemedicine initiative to get high quality care to vets in remote areas.

So those are just some of the ways in which HHS works with veterans.

We are always looking for more ways to better coordinate with veterans-specific agencies at the federal, state and local levels.

Partnerships are such a key part of what we do, and serving veterans does run deep within HHS’s history.

As some of you may know, the historical roots of America’s federal social services programs really lie in the provision of pensions to Civil War veterans—the first time in our history that we had a meaningfully sized federal government and a large number of veterans to care for. That eventually laid the groundwork for Social Security, which was housed for many years in the department that preceded HHS.

So it’s fitting that the great president who led us during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln, had a deep appreciation for what it means to support and care for our veterans.

Here’s how he put it: As a country, we give “honor to the soldier and sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country’s cause.” But “honor, also, to the citizen who cares for his brother in the field and serves, as he best can, the same cause. Honor to him” who serves our veterans “only less than to him who braves, for the common good, the storms of heaven and the storms of battle.”

At HHS, we are deeply honored to serve our veterans long after they have left the battlefield and to give back to those who have given our country so much.

Thank you again for joining us today, and I look forward to taking some questions right now.

Content created by Speechwriting and Editorial Division 
Content last reviewed on November 29, 2017