By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
Nov. 19, 2009 - The National Guard can play an important role in helping to spread the news about the Veterans Affairs Department's new programs to veterans in their communities, VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki told a National Guard conference just outside the nation's capital today. Despite a long list of successful new programs this year, only about one-third of the nation's veterans have taken advantage of the services, Shinseki told more than 2,400 participants in the National Guard's first Joint Senior Leadership Conference at the National Harbor.
"We want them to know that VA is here," Shinseki said. "If you have the opportunity to talk about what VA offers, I appreciate some help here, and if you need help getting a VA representative to speak with veterans in your communities, call and we'll provide someone to do that. But I do need your help."
Shinseki highlighted some of VA's efforts this year to enhance education benefits through the Post 9/11 GI Bill and the department's efforts to end homelessness among veterans and to reduce veteran unemployment.
VA has the nation's largest integrated medical system, with 153 health care centers with affiliations with 102 university medical schools, the secretary said. VA's electronic health care records also are networked with nearly 800 community-based outpatient clinics in the United States, and VA operates 232 veteran centers, including mobile clinics, to reach veterans in rural areas, he added.
Nearly 300,000 civil servants man VA's health, benefits and national cemetery administrations to provide care and services for those who've served, Shinseki told the group.
In addition, he said, VA is the eighth-largest life insurance enterprise, with more than $1 trillion in coverage to more than 7 million clients. In education, VA is behind only the Department of Education in education benefits provided to Americans, with an annual payout of $9 billion a year. Also, VA guarantees about 1.3 million home loans with a balance of $175 billion.
But of the 23 million veterans in the United States, Shinseki said, fewer than 8 million are enrolled in VA programs.
"In purely business terms, that would describe a 30 percent market penetration," Shinseki said. "Veterans are our clients, so caring for veterans and providing them the services and benefits they have earned is VA's sole reason for existing, yet 70 percent of our market chooses to go elsewhere for support, or they do without."
With support from the National Guard, Shinseki said, he is certain more veterans can learn about what VA has to offer. It's the business of VA to make sure veterans get the benefits and services they've earned, he said.
"It's our intent to go after that 15 million part of the population that are not enrolled with us," he said.