By Maria Gallegos
Brooke Army Medical Center Public Affairs
JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas, Jan. 9, 2014 – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made his first official visit to Brooke Army Medical Center Wednesday.
Hagel was welcomed by BAMC Commander Col. Kyle Campbell and Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Pumphrey at San Antonio Military Medical Center followed by a meet-and-greet with wounded warriors service and staff members.
“You inspire me,” Hagel told 1st Lt. Micah Andersen, who was rehabilitating at the burn center rehab gym. Andersen was injured by an improvised explosive device while on foot patrol in Afghanistan June 1, 2013.
“BAMC offers the best care in the world,” Hagel told him as they discussed Andersen’s injuries and the care he was receiving at the medical center.
“I know, this is the best place to be,” Andersen replied.
Following the visit, the secretary met with Col. Donald Gajewski, Center for the Intrepid director, for a tour of the out-patient rehabilitation facility. Afterward, he spoke at a town hall meeting with service members, their families and staff to thank them for their service and sacrifice.
“I’m here to first better understand the tremendous work you do here and what this place represents,” he said. “It’s about hope for a better life for you and your families and all our people. It’s about how each of you are inspiring others who are with you now but will come after you - families inspire, you inspire, people who work here, docs and all of his team, they are an inspiration. I want to acknowledge that because we occasionally tend to drift over that element of what is done in a tremendous facility like this.”
He said that with all the advances in medical technology, it is the people who make a difference.
Hagel also touched on the new law covering future retirement benefits for veterans and pledged medically disabled veterans will be exempt from cuts in benefits.
“Let me assure you that all disabled families — all of you in this room — will be exempted from any adjustments in the rate of growth,” Hagel said to the group. “We’re not going to do anything that would inhibit the progress of this institution.”
The new law suggests that working-age military retirees would see their pensions increase at a slower pace, with cost-of-living adjustments pegged to the rate of inflation minus 1 percentage point. Once they turned 62, they would go back to receiving adjustments pegged to the full rate of inflation.
Hagel said that the provision will not take effect until 2016 and that the administration and Congress have two years to fix the law and grant an exemption for disabled vets.
“We’ll make it work – we’ll fix it – and we’ll do it so it doesn’t hurt,” the secretary said.