Tom, thank you for that kind introduction. Let me also acknowledge:
In the past two and a half years, VA has focused on three key priorities: Expanding access to VA benefits and services for Veterans of all generations; reducing the frustrating disability claims backlog; and ending the shame of Veterans homelessness.
Breaking ground for Jacksonville's new, replacement outpatient clinic is helping to fulfill that first priority—expanding access—just the first step in a major shift in how VA provides healthcare.
Shortly after the American Civil War, VA began building large Soldiers' Homes in major cities, which became the first Veterans hospitals. Eleven of these original homes are still in use today by VA. For many years, VA relied upon these hospitals to care for Veterans, expecting Veterans to come to them for care.
Then, about a decade or so ago, someone at VA reversed that healthcare delivery system and began pushing out to the cities, towns, and villages where veterans actually live. Clinics like this one are intended to provide about 90 percent of Veterans' day-to-day needs. If we do that right, patient well-being increases, episodes of acute care are reduced, and Veterans are healthier, happier, and more in control of their lives; but, they have a role to play, and they must help, if the entire system is to work. And that role is active involvement in their well-being. It's based on the concept of continuity of care and long- term wellness. Well-being is more the product of good living rather than of a physician's skills—diet, exercise, weight control, regular check-ups, and attitude count. No doctor prescribes these over the counter.
And when, in the 5-10 percent of the time that acute care is needed, Veterans will be cared for in one of our superb medical centers. Today, we still operate a constellation of 152 medical centers, but those flagship hospitals are now supported by a much larger network of 798 Community-Based Outpatient Clinics like this one, another 300 Vet Centers, and even mobile clinics on wheels to reach the most remote areas where Veterans have chosen to live.
Beyond building more clinics and hospitals, expanding access also means electronically connecting medical specialists, wherever they exist in the national healthcare system, to remotely located patients. We intend to overcome the tyranny of distance. We have invested heavily in telehealth technology—$284 million dollars in the last two years—because we see it as the next great advance in healthcare delivery, and we want to be at the leading edge. The result will routinely be more convenient, higher-quality, and more consistent healthcare for Veterans, especially in the remote and inaccessible places.
The new clinic we break ground on today is more than 2.5 times the size of the old clinic. It will provide state-of–the-art, advanced diagnostics and services including: Computed tomography (CT) scans; magnetic resonance imaging (MRI); positron emission tomography (PET) scans. The clinic will also feature improved lab and minor surgery facilities; an expansion of services for women Veterans; and greater mental health and telehealth services.
I'd like to thank Congresswoman Brown, again, for helping us to build this outpatient clinic. Most of you know that she has been pushing for this larger, expanded clinic for many years in Washington. As a member of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, as I mentioned in acknowledging her earlier, she has long been a tireless advocate for all our Nation's Veterans. She has also been a strong supporter of VA and its secretary, and I am personally grateful for her leadership and support.
As we begin to build this wonderful facility for Veterans, this is a time for remembrance, reflection, and respect for their selfless service and sacrifice. We honor them best by providing the care and services they have earned.
God bless those who serve and have served the Nation, and may God continue to bless this wonderful country of ours. Thank you.