A White House adviser and Chippewa Falls native made an appearance Thursday at a Chippewa Valley VA Clinic.
Jake Leinenkugel, senior White House adviser to the Department of Veterans Affairs, highlighted mental health and suicide awareness while addressing a crowd of veterans and VA Clinic staff.
“The big piece I’m really involved in right now is mental health and veteran suicide,” Leinenkugel said. “We’ve heard about it, and it’s a matter of doing something about it.”
Leinenkugel accepted a job in Washington, D.C., in early 2017.
He called the department of Veterans Affairs the “largest health-care network certainly, by far, in the United States.”
Reframing the mission and culture of the VA is central to President Donald Trump’s administration, Leinenkugel said.
“The commitment of what this current president, whether you like him or not, is adamant … that the VA and veterans get the best possible access to quality care when and where they need it, male or female. That’s the transition we’re going through right now,” he said.
Trump proposed a $198.6 billion budget for 2019, according to the VA.
Included in that 2019 budget request was $8.6 billion for mental health services, up 5.8 percent over 2018, according to the VA.
Leinenkugel called the VA hospital system “stressed,” and said surgeons and clinicians were in short supply.
He denied accusations that “this administration and some of its proponents” are pushing to privatize VA services.
“It’s far from the truth,” Leinenkugel said. “How (could that) be done when Congress appropriates, runs and authorizes the VA? Compare what the VA does for veterans with the private sector,” he said.