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Top 10 stories of 2018: Wilkie sworn in as Veterans Affairs secretary

Fayetteville Observer - 12/22/2018

Dec. 22--Fayetteville'sRobert Wilkie was tasked earlier this year to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Wilkie, who grew up outside Fort Bragg as the son of an Army officer, still considers Fayetteville home. He is the first VA secretary to come from North Carolina.

He oversees the nation's second-largest government agency, which is charged with caring for nine million veterans and more than 1,700 government-run health care facilities.

Wilkie's confirmation was seen as a "new day for the VA."

His predecessor, David Shulkin, lost his job following a controversy over travel expenses and ongoing concerns over access to VA care. President Trump chose Wilkie after former White House doctor Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson removed himself from consideration following allegations of misconduct and mismanagement.

During questioning by the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, Wilkie promised to oppose efforts to privatize the VA and said funds used for an expanded community-based care program would not be taken from veterans health care.

Both remain key issues for the department. Local wait times to see a Choice provider and Choice providers no longer providing veteran care because of untimely payments are issues that were raised this year.

While Wilkie's appointment was seen as bringing stability to the department, the Fayetteville VA Medical Center has seen a shakeup in leadership.

James Laterza, an Army veteran who took charge of medical care for one of the nation's fastest-growing veterans populations in April, announced in October he would be leaving. He did not provide a reason for his departure, but stressed there was no controversy related to his resignation.

In November, Dr. Carl Bazemore was named interim director for the Fayetteville VA. He is a pulmonary critical care physician who served on active duty with the Navy from 1981 to 1989 and retired from the Navy Reserve in 2007.

He worked in private practice for nearly two decades before joining the Asheville VA in 2008. He served as chief of staff of the Asheville VA from 2014 to 2018 and was the facility's acting director from July 2017 until February of this year.

Wilkie said the period for people to submit resumes for the job has closed, and he expects reviews related to more permanent arrangements to be made at the beginning of the new year.

Staff writer Rachael Riley can be reached at rriley@fayobserver.com or 910-486-3528.

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(c)2018 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)

Visit The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.) at www.fayobserver.com

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