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Veterans Affairs secretary marks first visit to veteran facility with stop at Hampton VA Medical Center

Congressman Bobby Scott, left, and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough. (Lisa Vernon Sparks/TNS)

Noting Hampton Roads has the fastest growing veteran population nationwide, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough visited the region Friday, marking his first trip to any veteran facility since his confirmation.

McDonough, a former White House chief of staff during the Obama Administration, toured the Hampton VA Medical Center, reviewed the quality of care and shared updates on vaccination efforts.

“I looked at the VA system, and the big accomplishments of the first 100 days (of the Biden Administration), which is obviously just a down payment on the work that we owe our vets, and the American people,” he said during an afternoon news conference.

McDonough commented on the collaboration with nearby Hampton University and other partnerships such as with the Department of Homeland Security to vaccinate veterans.

In March, the VA opened its doors to give all veterans and their families access to the COVID-19 vaccinations under a federal bill signed after earlier restrictions. To date, 5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccinations have been given to as many as 2.5 million veterans nationally. McDonough shared that among other questions, vets are asking medical staff about reactions and trials, but didn’t speculate why some are taking a pass. He shared what the VA is doing to make the vaccine more accessible.

“We are now in a position where we have more supply and we have a harder to reach demand,” he said. “We’re moving our mobile units. We’re bringing vaccines to the veterans. We’re trying to make it a much more straightforward process for vets to get vaccinated. We’re engaging directly with veterans.”

McDonough, flanked by U.S. Reps. Bobby Scott and Elaine Luria, also a veteran, highlighted President Joe Biden’s proposed American Jobs Plan. It features $18 billion for infrastructure improvements and modernizes VA health care facilities.

The Hampton VA and its principal building is about eight decades old, McDonough noted, and the majority of campus has structures that are more than 50 years old, compared to private hospitals, which on average are newer facilities.

“This is the kind of facility where we need that kind of extra investment in our infrastructure, especially when one considers the fact that the veteran population here is growing as fast, if not faster than anywhere else in the country,” he said. “We don’t have that money yet, we’ve not made any decision of yet about where we will deploy that money when it’s enacted.”

There are roughly 300,000 veterans living in Hampton Roads, a number that grows each year, a VA spokeswoman said.

The VA announced it is building a larger veteran heath care facility that would offer outpatient and mental health services in South Hampton Roads. The VA expects to open the 155,000-square-foot facility in 2024, but a location has not been decided. Another smaller outpatient clinic also is expected to open in 2024 near Portsmouth and Suffolk.


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