U.S. Department of Veterans Affair Secretary Denis R. McDonough visited the Lebanon Veterans Administration Medical Center on Tuesday, May 7.

During his tour of the South Lebanon Township facility, McDonough met with patients and employees, and afterwards made some brief public remarks and took questions.

During the ceremony, McDonough helped the Lebanon VA Medical Center recognize four employees for excellence in their profession. Recognized were Cheyenne Betancourt, Melissa Buchinski, Bridgette Schultz, and Gayle Sweinhart.

Standing outside the main entrance to the medical center’s Building No. 1, McDonough began his remarks by saying that he “wanted to come to the Lebanon medical center for a lot of reasons, but most profoundly because they just won, for the third year in a row, the best veteran-patient experience [designation] in the entire VA system which … is the biggest integrated health care system in the country.”

With Jeffrey Beiler, the Lebanon Medical Center’s director, beside him at the podium, McDonough added that “something is being done very, very well here at Lebanon, and I wanted to come witness it myself.”

McDonough noted that the Lebanon medical center consistently provides a high level of care even though its workload has increased.

“This year to-date, over last year to-date at the same time, [Lebanon is] seeing … 7% more veterans, … nearly 11% more women veterans, … more than 10% more outpatient visits, … and almost 6 1/2% more bed days of care.”

Overall, Donough said that “the VA is providing more care and more benefits to more veterans than at any time in our history, ” and that he was “thrilled to … be able to say to these great leaders how much I appreciate them and thrilled to be able to hear directly directly from veterans about their experiences.”

Responding to a question about mental health services provided to veterans and the roughly 60,000 suicides committed by veterans in the last decade, McDonough said his department has implemented a four-pronged approach consisting of making access to mental health care easier, working with non-VA community organizations, a 9-8-8 phone line for veterans in crisis, and a program allowing a veteran in crisis to walk into any medical facility – VA or not – and get immediate treatment at no cost.

“If you are a veteran in crisis, please call 9-8-8 and press ‘1’ and you will immediately get connected to the crisis line,” McDonough said, adding that year-over-year calls are up 17%.

The secretary also promised that veterans in crisis, whether “enrolled in the VA or not,” can “go into any hospital and tell them you’re a vet, and they will get you care that day, and we will pay for it.”

Earlier in the day, McDonough visited the Indiantown Gap National Cemetery, where about 47,000 military veterans are buried, to celebrate the graduation of eight new national cemetery directors.

“Our cemeteries are routinely scored the highest on customer satisfaction of any organization in the United States, public or private, government or non-government,” the secretary said.

McDonough has served as Veterans Affairs Secretary since February 2021, when he was nominated by President Joe Biden and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Prior to joining Biden’s cabinet, he was former President Barack Obama’s Chief of Staff from 2013 to 2017. Before that he held various national security positions, including Chief of Staff of the National Security Staff and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications.

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Chris Coyle writes primarily on government, the courts, and business. He retired as an attorney at the end of 2018, after concentrating for nearly four decades on civil and criminal litigation and trials. A career highlight was successfully defending a retired Pennsylvania state trooper who was accused,...


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