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Veteran Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie On The Future Of Central Florida Veterans

Veteran saluting off camera
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Florida by 2025 is projected to overtake California as the state with the second-largest veteran population. 

This means Florida will need a significant federal investment to meet the health care needs of this growing population. 

90.7’s health reporter Abe Aboraya spoke with Veteran Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie about health care for veterans in the area.

Wilkie says he plans to expand the health care offerings in Central Florida.

“What we’re doing is, we are expanding the capacity of clinics in the area,” he said. “We are increasing space in Kissimmee. We just awarded the contract for the expansion of the Kissimmee clinic last month. Clermont clinic, that will be awarded in a few months, in terms of the expansion there. We are changing the location of a new clinic in the Palm Bay area so that we show up in those areas of rapid expansion.”

To combat veteran homelessness the VA is working with a variety of state and local partners to provide transitional housing, drug addiction treatment and mental health treatment.

A common issue is that those who are not honorably discharged are not eligible for these benefits. For veterans who are not honorably discharged, Wilkie said the department has mental health resources available. That is a change in how the department has operated in the past, he said.

“I’ve spent my entire life in the military,” he said. “I was born into it. I’m still a reserve officer. But the notion in my youth or adolescence or even as a young officer, that the VA would do anything with those who are other than honorably discharged was unthinkable.”