As part of the White House Business Council’s program called “Winning the Future Roundtable with American Business,” Secretary of Veterans Affairs General Eric K. Shinseki recently visited The Chamber for a roundtable discussion. Joined by members of The Chamber’s Board and Military Affairs Committee, the Secretary was here to listen to local businesses and get feedback on how the Administration can best support their growth. Another goal is to make sure that local business leaders are taking advantage of the Administration’s resources and programs designed to help them create jobs and compete.
Welcomed by Chamber President and CEO Richard Perez, Secretary Shinseki began by providing attendees with information about Veterans Affairs (VA). According to the Secretary, the VA system includes 152 hospitals and 790 outpatient clinics, and they are the eighth-largest insurance company in the nation. Annually, the VA spends $6.2 billion on mental health services. Through the GI Bill, there are roughly 500,000 veterans in colleges and universities across the nation.
Secretary Shinseki specially recognized a group of North East ISD 8th grade students who won an award through the eCYBERMISSION with their report on the impact of pharmaceuticals dumped into the Edwards Aquifer. The eCYBERMISSION is a web-based science, technology, engineering and math competition for 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th grade teams aimed at encouraging students to embrace these industries during higher education.
Chamber Chairman Sam Dawson, CEO of Pape-Dawson Engineers, Inc., thanked Secretary Shinseki for joining The Chamber, and after leading the attendees in self-introductions, he opened the floor for questions and feedback. Issues included access to Department of Defense contracts for small businesses, reintegration of soldiers back into the community and workplace, education and training for veterans, the need for transportation funding to improve infrastructure and provide for the growing needs brought on by joint basing, the difficulties small businesses have getting their product or service picked up by the military, and the impact of increased regulations of the business community’s ability to serve veterans affordably.
Secretary Shinseki was nominated by President Barack Obama in December of 2008 and was sworn in as the seventh Secretary of Veterans Affairs. As the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, General Shinseki is responsible for administering benefit programs for veterans, their families and their survivors. Under the direction of the President, the Secretary exercises authority, direction and control over the Department of Veterans Affairs.