Secretary Wilkie visits Cheyenne VA, addresses vet suicide, rural challenges

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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (Wyoming News Now) - Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie says there is a nationwide crisis of veteran suicide. The VA calls it a national health concern.

PHOTO: Robert L. Wilkie, American lawyer and government official who currently serves as the Acting United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs., Photo Date: November 2017

“Twenty veterans take their lives every day,” Wilkie says, “And a majority of them are outside of the VA.”

Wilkie says he has been focused on rural and native America since he became secretary. Rural states like Wyoming mean helping veterans with any health issue, mental or otherwise, can be difficult. Wyoming has two VA hospitals, but Wilkie says those hospitals cover thirty-nine thousand square miles.

We caught up with the secretary when he visited the Cheyenne VA, and he says there are some keys to helping rural vets. One is the trio of Mobile Telehealth Clinics – basically a doctor’s office on wheels. In those clinics, the office can come to veterans, and in turn they can connect them with providers anywhere in the nation.

The second key, Wilkie says, is radio. The idea is to open up resources for the VA to get its message over the airways to get to veterans in hard to reach places.

"Because in the West, radio is the be all and end all that it never could be west of the Mississippi." Wilkie tells Wyoming News Now, “We can't be everywhere. But we can open the aperture to support, local charities, local governments to help us find those veterans we haven't been able to reach."

If you are a veteran, or know a veteran, who is thinking about or could be at risk of suicide, you can call the veterans crisis line at 1-800 -273-8255.

Meanwhile, the Mobile Telehealth Clinics will be traveling across Wyoming and Northern Colorado on a set schedule.

You can catch them at the following places and times:
Sterling, CO – Every Monday and Tuesday, 9:30 AM – 4 PM at NJC College

Wheatland, WY – Every Wednesday and Thursday, 9:30 AM – 3:30 PM at the Fire Dept. Training Facility

Torrington, WY – Every Monday and Tuesday, 9:30 AM – 3:30 PM at VFW Post 2918

Laramie, WY – Every Wednesday and Thursday, 9 AM – 4 PM at the National Guard Armory