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tv   VA Secretary Discusses Digital Divide  CSPAN  December 10, 2021 10:06pm-11:03pm EST

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good morning and welcome to "washington post" life. i'm a national security reporter at the post. we are talking about the gents care, veterans issues and the issue of -- jamie today is the man responsible for addressing those issues secretary denis mcdonough. mr. secretary welcome to "washington post" life. >> thanks for having me alex. you left out your important bio. one that you are a veteran yourself and you were a former
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va employee and we could not be more proud of your association with us over the times of thanks for having me. >> appreciate that. to start yesterday senator bob dole passed away and as you know he was a statesman before is a senator and presidential candidate. his war wounds played a significant role not only is his public w life but his private le is what i want to hear from you in your first public remarks about mr. dole and tell me a little bit about his role in the community for veterans and his role in public life.
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>> well, he was an amazing statement as you said and a great senator, decorated soldier, highly-regarded that and a tireless defender of the va. we came to rely on him a great deal over his time in public service. i actually came to rely on him a great deal privately, personally. we stayed in good touch over the years when i was in the white house and even over the course of last year as i have been in this job both with him directly given how much he cares about the va but also with his amazing wife senator elizabeth dole who is a a tireless champion as we
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said yesterday for caregivers herself having been a caregiver these last many years as well as a great partner for the va. so the dole family have been absolute rocks for us so we are going to miss senator bob dole a great deal and a tape great solace from the fact that we are stronger as a result of his support for us and the lessons they taught me personally. >> veterans care is i one of the most significant things and when i think about veterans care i think about access, access and access and the biggest gripe among veterans when they talk
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about va care. one of the issues that you're tasked with taking on is internet access itself when it comes to it as we describe. as the department and agency tasked with finding new innovative ways to care for veterans how do you approach the digital divide and what are some of the challenges and how are some of those challenges met in this post covid world? >> they are major challenges someone is obviously the fact that our caregivers or our health care providers they are not evenly spread across the country. it's what we say, we have big concentrations of health care providers in different places. this is true of every health care system so for example that's a challenge for us at the va because we have a lot of
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rurall veterans. living in rural communities and not just va but the entire american health care system faces challenges with shortages of health care providers in rural communities to one of the ways we address that is by dramatically expanding since the start of a pandemic telehealth and telehealth can mean anything from getting on the phone with your health care provider to getting on the screen as you and i are now on the screen and if i were the vet it would be a health care provider and a specialist on the other end. we have seen an explosion in the use of telehealth during the period of the pandemic. in march of 2020 there were about 2500 telehealth call the
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ban by one year later march of 2021 there were 45,000 telehealth appointment today. that's a massive expansion and the good news is it allows us to meet our veterans where they are including in rural mentees and allows them to get expertise directly with them into less points. i was in kansas with senator moran very early in my tenure as secretary of the va and i was talking to a veteran who was talking about the mental health care that he was receiving and he made a point that because of telehealth he was able to get access to a mental health care professional in manhattan and i was notus manhattan, kansas. it was manhattan, new york city and that's the beauty of
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telehealth because we have concentrations of health care providers and places in the telehealth vehicle allows it -- is to bring it to our veterans wherever they are. there is a major challenge in all of this which is beyond their control, which is access to 5g or access to broadband. this is why we are so excited about the president's plan and we are so grateful that the department of commerce under the leadership of secretary raimondo is going to make sure that once and for all we solve this digital divide. once we are now positioned there will be no limitations on our telehealthth capabilities and we will be in a position where we can reach that no matter where they are even in those very
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rural cities where they don't have access to care. >> i think that's where the problem intersects. we talk about access with these rural veterans but we talk about expanding telehealth. there are veterans predisposed to such things. veterans who have access to the internet or have an understanding of technology enough to get on the phone and talk to their the a doctor on face time but there is still that gap. you have to be able to reach veterans unless there's deliberate targeted resources because they are going to have internet at home and they won't have access to cell towers so what are you doing to reach those veterans who are at the heart of this better in these wi-fi wi-fi deserts in the cell tower deserts where getting to them them and hearing fromld thm
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in the first place is hard. >> you are absolutely right alex. there are a lot of places that because of of broadband cannot connect irrespective of whatever capability we have fun are in until the secretary and the president get this done. what do we do in the meantime? this is where partnerships become so important and this is where our community-based clinic network becomes so important. we have around 1100 community-based outpatient clinics across the country and including in rural areas. the important part of that is, that means a veteran from highly rural settings have to drive a long way and maybe the more than an hour and then they can see
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one of our primary care physicians or providers and then from there actually get access to specialists across the country. so that's one way. the second way is through our partnerships with people like to be a w. and the american legion and different colleges and universities wheremu we have remote access for care. the third is the relationship that we have with community providers. congress enacted something called the mission act several years ago. the mission act sets certain limits that says for example if a veteran cannot get access to her primary care physician within 20 days he can be referred to community care. the veteran can't get access to a specialist within 28 days he can be referred to community
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care or at the veteran has the particular a long drive to get access to care in the va system he can be referred to the community providers in his community. those are the three ways we do this alex. we are looking at this really hard right now for a lot of different reasons looking at access for rural veterans and we have been looking at it because of questions of vaccinations. in this case we brought the covid vaccine to those communities through our mobile units. we are also looking at this because we are taking a hard look at our infrastructure, our physical infrastructure across the country for a requirement that congress put on this in what we call the access review commission so we are taking a look at what's available in
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rural communities for our veterans. one of the things we are learning what that is we in many cases are the only provider in highly rural areas and that takes us a key backbone for health care or veterans to be certain but also for non-veterans and we have seen this throughout the pandemic where we have made access to our facilities even for non-veterans a priority during covid. we have provided access to some 500 civilians during the course of the pandemic in our hospitals and in our clinics so they can get emergency care in the context of covid-19. all of these questions point out the central point which i think we are trying to make throughout this pandemic which is we are a
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fundamental safety net for health care access for veterans first and foremost and it's turning out we are really important player for access to health care for non-veterans in rural communities as well and something we are very proud of and s something that i hope congress takes into consideration as we are looking at questionsay of budgeting and access going forward. >> turning to the subject at maybe some willan say internet access is too much of a good thing and that's disinformation that's targeting veterans. it's so easy a -- veterans are respected and they have a lot of social interactions and they bring a lot people with them when it comes to their unions and their stature in the community. there've been congressional hearings and there have been vietnam veterans of america who
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have talked about this issue and theve of u.s. government respone in the last couple of years. last year we asked the va what they were doing especially going into the election when a new foreign adversaries and others were seeking to target veterans with disinformation and click okay off. the va took a backseat to this. the sever was led by the department of homeland security who put out information for veterans to make sure they are aware. when you are at the white house he told reporters that you would take a look at that when it comes to what the a's role is when it comes to this issue so what have you taken a look at and what can you describe? >> thanks very much for that. i want to double down on your analytic point which is veterans are pillars in the communities across the country and we have
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seen this in a lot of different ways. we have seen it in the last two months in particular on this issue of resettling afghan refugees into the united states where in many communities across the country advocates for that effort have beenth veterans. i'm very proud of that and most importantly very impressed by it and it does speak to your first which is that veterans are bedrock than their communities and this question of ensuring that veterans have access to good, sound data and information is super important. that is what we have underscored is our first and most important effort which is we want to be a clearinghouse for information about questions for veterans care to benefits to questions around whether we
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identify efforts by somebody trying to mislead veterans. that's the first and most important thing we can do isti e maintain her posture as a veteran focusedpr organization focused on nothing other than that, not on politics, focused on the best possible care to veterans including a warning when you see a potential -- secondly we have been very active participants in an agency group for the present the national security leadership. we have been active participants in that process were not just dhs dod has taken a strong role in looking at how can they protect it. we underscored in the context of
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that working group two important things. one i just made which is we will continue to be an unrivaled completely apolitical sources of information for veteranset in to we aren't going to get between our veterans and their health care providers. veterans can have every confidence that when they come to us to ask questions about issues that they are facing is a relates to anything. if it relates to concerns they have about what they are seeing in their community they know they can have that communication with their health care provider without the fear of it being used in any other way. so those are the two big things that we are focused on alex which is one how can we maintain our role as a trusted source and good sound information including where necessary warnings for
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veterans and how is it that we are going to make sure veterans have every confidence when they come to us that we willl not get between veteran health care providers and they will get all the support they need including if they feel like they are being pressured or recruited from somewhere else. >> turning to the issue of veteran suicide which is especially pernicious given some of the unique ways our community interacts with things like firearms. as you note from va data when it comes to choosing lethal means for suicide veterans over rome only choose firearms because they are familiar with them and in the last 20 years suicide by firearm has gone down when it comes to civilians. for veterans it's up and for women veterans is way up, 13%
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increase in veteran suicide among women using firearms in the last 20 years. this is the row bum. it's an urgent problem itself problem that's getting worse and the va has not been able to address this issue so what are you doing in your agency and what you'd doing at the secretary level on down to finally address this problem and get it under control? >> let me take lethal means in a three-step answer. one you are right that the problem is huge and you are right that it is far too big and even one death by suicide from the veteran is one too many. they do want to just contest a little bit that we have not seen anything that is reducing that put out the numbers a couple of months ago on the transition from 2018 to 2019 numbers. we saw a reduction in the first
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year in a 10 year time period 630 or so fewer deaths by suicide. i'm not saying it's because i think we have done enough i'm just saying directionally in a port in first step by no means is enough. we want to get to zero here but that's an important directional change so i just wanted to put that out there as a source of hope. second we are underscoring the truth in our program by making sure veterans in an emergency situationwe can see a health cae professional that they and in an urgent situation in terms of access to mental health care providers using the standard which is two days and even throughout the pandemic and an emergency or urgent situation we are getting veterans and to care in two days or less.
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that involves increasing access points and we talked about telehealth a minute ago and it also involves making sure that every reduce the stigma associated with seeking help and the fact is all of us seek mental health care. it's a highly logical thing when one is worried about it and it's highly logical that people find themselves struggling a bit too chilly in the course of the pandemic when they find themselves isolated or anxious. this question of access is a question of us having providers and having avenues for veterans to give them access and it's a societal challenge for all of us to underscored that there is no weakness in seeking that access. which brings me to the third which is lethal means.
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we are familiar with the data that you ticked off and very saddened alex. that's why we have in the context ofom our work at va over the course of the last three months dramatically ramped up our lethal means safety tree. that comes in a lot of different forms from television advertisements were we were out recently in thehe market at the moment to social media and interaction like this one by the way and where we urge veterans to come and take a look at va.gov and hear from us about various lethal means safety steps wen can take including by giving access to firearm locks. we have seen as result in these first couple of months of this
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communications effort dramatic uptick in terms of interactions with our social media posts on this for example of more than 1 billion interactions but importantly it concretely related to interaction with us on things like coming to get firearm locks. the point here is exactly the point you made in your lead-in alex which is oftentimes suicidal ideation comes in a flash and we want to make sure in that moment there is some distance from i that moment of acute desperation for example and access to a firearm. our training is all around trying to distance that moment, that moment of acute ideation and we want tond distance that from access to a firearm.
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there are two ways of doing that. one is that the safety programming that we have the added another public affairs campaign we have which is now we are urging families and veterans alike even if you are not a period of a crisis to make a plan in the event that a crisis comes along. we are saying don't wait, reach out.ha even visit our web site the eight.gov/mental health and see all the kinds of information that we have available so you can plan for that eventuality. .. >> that is a great point to leave it at. thank you for joining washington post live. >> one thing you have really been focused on -- i know you
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are looking hard into this, this is a case of intense interest >> but i will underscore my appreciation. and i think it is an important story for you to get to the bottom of. >> i appreciate that we will look for a way to work with challenges lie ahead for veterans with that very serious responsibility but we are here to help. >> we will help you get to the bottom of that. i appreciate your time.
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>> thank you i appreciate you all very much. goodbye. >> that was secretary mcdonough coming up we have the ceo that joins us next. please stay tuned. >> i first heard about essentials i went from active duty to a college student to now and engineer. and ultimately help me to pursue my career comcast is supporting veterans in a major way by providing this program i my dream job. >> hello everyone editor in chief whether it is remote learning or telehealth to be
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transformative for veterans and military families 20 me today is the executive vice president of public policy and executive vice president of digital equity at comcast to discuss the company's commitment to serving those who serve our country by providing access to the internet thank you so much for joining us. >> thank you for having me. >> since the onset of covid-19 pandemic we witnessed a monumental shift and the list goes on. what can we do to ensure our nation's veterans can access the tools and opportunities available to them online quick. >> services like telehealth and remote learning have become necessities during thehe pandemic and they will remain popular and critical in years
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to come we been focused on keeping veterans connected at home for some time and in 2018 for example comcast announced what was then the second largest expansion of our internet essentials program to include low income veterans. it is the largest most comprehensive internet adoption program in the entire united states connecting over 10 million people in ten years just 995 per month. we also offer heavily subsidized laptop computers and the federal government emergency broadband benefit were ebv provides eligible customers with the subsidy that covers the cost of those essentials am part of the recently enacted bipartisan infrastructure bill replaces the program with the direct broadband subsidy permanent our company's commitment to
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connecting veterans help veterans connect to vital services already available to them in fact the vast majority of visits made in our originating from their homes that represents a market shift prior to the pandemic telehealth visits often meant traveling from one facility to another it's not just telehealth. with more and more schools offering virtual options to earn degrees and certifications veterans can use the internet to take advantage of their own educational benefits under the g.i. bill by taking courses online. a real-life impact can r be so transformative. >> your main goal is to provide access but what can be done to reach veterans at other locations such as community centers? >> we know it's important for
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veterans to access the internet when they are outside of their homes there are many veterans t serving organizations across the country to help veterans apply for benefits navigate career services and get access to mental health services at comcast are initiative to reach people with free internet outside of the home we announced it with the initial goal to help attend virtual school and to get their homework done in community centers near them our zones combined with our internet essentials program programs that are a part of project up which is our companies new comprehensive initiative to advance digital equity products to help the future of unlimited possibilities we weinvest enormous resources with the 1 billion-dollar commitment to reach 50 million people and just last week we
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announced free wi-fi and up to 100 veteran focused facilities as we continue to bring more community organizations online with fast free internet. we have already's have at veleast 25 zones inside of veterans serving organizations and will continue to work closely with partners and veterans and military communities to map out additional communications the next several months. for example we are installing a lift at in pennsylvania organization that empowers thousands of veterans annually to reachsi their fullest potential from housing to career development many organizations we are working with we look forward to expand that list to connect veterans where they are and through organizations that they already trust is of utmost importance to us at comcast. >> corroboration would be critical in the digital divide although comcast is currently
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focused on digital equity it also has a history of supporting veterans and military families in this capacity so tell us about that commitment. >> our companies connections to veterans go all the way back to our layout on —- to relate founder with the united states navy veteran serving under second world war. comcast nbc universal believes including the inclusive workplace with the experiences of those in the military community this is anchored by that commitment to hire 21000 veterans national guard members and reserve servicemembers and military spouses today in fact over 17000 have joined the camera on —- comcast nbc universal team we also have unique programs to support our employees who currently serve including our military concierge service which is a team dedicated to help employees pay and other
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services with their called to active duty and t also to be there for them when they return to comcast nbc universal we are also welcome to partner with those with the military community to advance their mission and in fact since 2011 we provided nearly $200 million in cash to these organizations and as part of the comcast program we are also assisting veteran owned small businesses hit hard over thee past two years and finally comcast nbc universal recognizes the us military reflects the american people and we honor people of all gender, race, ethnicity and background for their service to our nation. >> that is a solid place to and with a comprehensive initiative thank you so much for your time and your insight i will hand things back over to the "washington post".
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>> welcome back to "washington post" live national security reporter here athe the post have
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the ceo of the nonprofit group that helps military families and veterans and servicemembers bring them back into civilian life welcome to "washington post" live. >> thank you we appreciate you having us on this morning. before we get into these issues for camp lejeune 2006 a lot has happened since then. i want to hear about the spark that went through your groups founding of those evolutionary steps are the ways that you identified these issues. >> thank you. almost 16 years ago i happen to be here for a very exciting
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moment with that veteran network and mental health clinic. that there were not those resources that had the momentum so it really was military families coming together to recognize the needs and challenges we were having to talk about them in be a voice for each other to do the actual work i did not aspire to be the ceo of the nonprofit organization but i i did aspire to take care of military families the way i promised when i was married into the military and then to live that life so throughout the last 16 years we met our servicemembers and families were they are at. is not always easy. there are remote locations
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there is a community that doesn't have the resources so we quickly recognize that rimental health tearing our military families apart for us to change the course so then we started with a very unique partnership throughout the country for that social work to allow the experience of military cultural training and of that families we became virtually accessible by the military families knowing we needed to meet them where they are at but this virtual connection to take the place
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of personal connection but it is a force multiplier and that is getting out into the communities to recognize who the military families are and connecting with them so that is certainly the way to collaborate with our partners acknowledging. >>d and yes there is an opportunity with telehealth toni reach folks who are out there not necessarily the way that you and i might do. and that represents opportunities for you guys to also reach these folks but also there is a downside to
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this dynamic but those that are the most isolated perhaps so what is the way you have overcome this issue and that personal touch that you mentioned that isu so vital that you don't necessarily get right now so what are the ways you've overcome the barriers quick. >> we are still working on overcoming that i can't say we have tackled that successfully with that problem. it will be a problem that getting into the community for people know that there is hope out there and one of the most
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important things that we see during the pandemic and with that situation in afghanistan and if you just make a phone call to someone unless they do have access that you can make that personal connection and draw them in so what are those barriers to that access and it's wonderful to have these v.a. centers and that could be a financial issue so you have organizations that are out there really looking at those minute barriers to care to address them with that global initiative can really take effect to take down those barriers to care and that is
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such a critical component of care in prior to the pandemic for us to be as loud as we could we have to figure out that solutions to the barriers of tele- mentale health which we know there are. something about the pandemic but it really place the emphasis on access to care virtually so everybody began to look at how do we continue to grow that network of care and reduce those barriers whether state licensure with that emphasis is really important and it's a lot to address the stigma as well because everybody needs ail little that of help once in a
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while sometimes a certain periods with n a journey in our life it is a norm which is critical there so many blessings that we saw from the pandemic. >> and also with respect to the secretary as you know the numbers fluctuate up and down and that somethingde that v.a. and department of defense that they need to address from when the numbers are down. so when it comes to reaching those people with a finger in the dam with a mental health issues we are reaching the people who are predisposed seeking care not necessarily reaching for those who are resistant to these this care
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and resources so what is one of the ways with that program that you have been able to break through the barrier frankly with resistance in the community to get care in resources and ask for help? >> we feel very strongly that trauma moment comes after a long journey of different things of not coming together in your life for feeling that way. o so our approach is to hit that injourney running and tackle the issues of that moment where somebody makes a life or death choice. that is so important because if you look at financial issues or physical issues or employment that when they are not addressed as a solution
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and package then there is a moment that are servicemembers that did not go into combat alone but they do commit suicide alone. so it is critical to be a part of that journey and constantly touching and reaching out to people with those nonprofits that are in the trenches i say to recognize that personal touch we have to keep pushing that because technology is wonderful and we can use that as a force multiplier but we have people and we are working for people and with people so as a community we need to care for each other and constantly be checking in with each other to make sure those moments are filled with hope. >> this is an important part
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not just military families dealing withac deployments for my grandfather served in the korean war and somehow that leads back to his time there so people may think that because those that were left in iraq or syria that these just go away but we're talking months or years or decades and we willl talk about these issues andan their families so they play a huge role in this so what are some of the issues facing military veterans familiesor going forward and how well-prepared are these families? >> that's a great question and thank you so much for bringing that up because a this organization was founded by
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families because wee were absolutely affected by deployments and injuries and those who gave their lives as a sacrifice. so with those shared experiences was such a strong bond between military families and keeping them connected, what we have learned about caregivers as we have a lot of trust in each other and fate of each other when we need something because we know the answer is a resource and the information we get is from a trusted source so to recognize the importance of the groups to keep caregivers and military families connected with each other is very important. in the school system it is critical that leadership recognizes who does military children are and how are they
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ensuring the success of education for military children? because that affects mom and dad at home as well. it is an awareness and education because as you know it is small and what you just mentioned it is such a powerful point to share those stories with you do you think they should them adjust anyone? probably not because you have all shared p experiences. so with the general public and corporations and the government to understand the culture of the military because in many ways we are sort of our own downfall by not wanting to ask for help and to make sure we take care
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ofe. everyone else and that resources goll to those who deserve it more so it's an interesting population and to work with and it is such an honor of course but where they are coming from to be successful. >> you talked about how they've come a long way and certainly depending on the department of defense the well-funded federal agencies but then her own families that affect the water supply so every day there is issues every day there is something happening with military families and servicemembers and veterans when it comes to dod. so where are the's agencies dealing in your communities?
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and what we see this relationship going forward and we stopped talking about veterans every day so in the coming years these agencies need to step up with these communities. >> it's interesting because we get to a situation like that government shutdown a couple years ago really impacted the coast guard families and nonprofit organizations out in the community making sure they had liwhat they needed it is so critical to respect and appreciate the work of the nonprofits that then to drive change in the community and it's important for larger organizations to recognize the value of this partnership.
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we are agile but yet tomorrow something big like afghanistan that wel, saw earlier we use the resources to make sure it is affected by that for them to reach out and make sure that they are okay and that is pretty significant something that can be done by an agile torganization and if you put in the toolbox that is much better service and then to stop talking about what they do to be in the forefront for a lifetime because the military community has never been seen before.
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and those experiences don't go away what we want them to do is to build better people and to be the betterment of this country but we have to keep that awareness with our military they are our greatest national security resource not technology. it is people's we have to keep thatnd focus to honor their service by continuing to make sure they are ready tomorrow to take whatever comes next. >> we have one final question when it comes to caregivers and veterans families. talk about mental health and the resources are there may be they are not good enough for consistentnt enough talking very little about the mental health
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of spouses and children with the's issues who don't necessarily have that so what are the issues you have seen when it comes to military families and veterans families and what are some of the ways agencies and other nonprofits can step up to fill the gap? >> making them a part of your mission -based is critical as i mentioned today with the grand opening of the mental health clinic to focus specifically on veterans military families and military children. those kinds of resources with these clinics around the
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country. and always puts the mental health and well-being of military spouses and children as a priority. it is incumbent upon the country to recognize the service of her spouse and military children to ensure the resources they need are provided by understanding that competency to understand the experience they are the lifeblood of the military and i cannot say it enough that the resources need to be understood and provided the foundation is doing as fantastic job in our heart goes out to them today senator dole has been a phenomenal supporter helping warriors from the day we started this organization very closely we worked alongside them to help military space on —- spouses
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and those are organizations all over the country that are banding together to ensure a strong network of care at the national and state level they need to be recognized because we spend a great deal of time raising the money to make sure we're doing the work that we can do in putting that money into the programming we don't want to fight with each other r but so is incumbent to recognize and appreciate the work theg nonprofits are doing as well. >> that's a great place to leave it. >> thank you for taking your time on this very important topic. >> thank you for watching this is been "washington post"
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lives if you want to check out oliver great programs coming out this week going to "washington post" lives have a great day
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