Vice President-elect Mike Pence promised military veterans that he and Donald Trump will reform the troubled Department of Veterans Affairs health system, telling them Friday that their medical care is part of the compensation for their service.
Speaking during an outdoor Veterans Day ceremony at the Indiana National Guard's Camp Atterbury south of Indianapolis, the governor did not address his new role leading Trump's transition team and his only mention of the president-elect was to reassure his audience he and Trump are committed to improving the VA's delivery of health benefits. Pence did not take questions and reporters were kept at a distance.
"Help is on the way," he told veterans, their families, active soldiers and others as brisk winds caused the flags behind to wave.
It was a message that retired hospital administrator and Navy veteran Joseph Durbin of Henry County, Kentucky, came to hear.
"When you see people with the arms and legs missing, the amount of suicides every day … we need to do something for our veterans," said Durbin, 64.
Unofficial or secret lists have been used at VA facilities across the country to hide lengthy delays in care for veterans. It led Congress to fund the Veterans Choice program, which allows veterans to seek private care at the government's expense if they have waited 30 days or longer.
Pence also spoke of the "non-physical" scars of many veterans. He said his father returned home from combat in Korea a changed man with medals that were not displayed but hidden away in a drawer. The governor, who is also the father of a Marine officer, praised the work of Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana in getting legislation passed to improve the mental health care of veterans and members of the military.
"We owe a debt we can never fully repay," Pence told the veterans.