U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and Robert Wilkie, the U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs, were in Wilmington Tuesday to visit the Wilmington V.A. Health Care Center at the Wilmington International Airport to see how the site recovered from damage following Hurricane Florence.
The federal officials also discussed mental health programs for veterans and what is happening legislatively in the aftermath of the weekend’s mass shootings.
“You have to look at what happened down in Texas and up in Ohio and recognize that these are domestic terrorist acts,” Tillis said. He mentioned a bipartisan “red flag” bill proposed by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., that would use protective orders to take guns from the mentally ill.
“I told him I will do everything I can to help him,” Tillis, who is up for re-election in 2020, said. “I expect this to be able to take action.”
In reference to measure passed by the U.S. House in February that would require federal background checks for all firearms sales, he seemed unsure that it would go before the Senate.
“What we need to do is make sure we can get stuff done,” Tillis said.
Wilkie said that this was the first time he and Tillis had visited the Wilmington health center since September.
“This building had holes in it. There was water damage throughout the facility,” Wilkie said. “It’s up and running. And serving one of the fastest growing V.A. communities in the country.”
Wilkie, who was Tillis’ senior advisor from 2015 to 2017, is now head of a newly formed task force to prevent veteran suicides.
“The majority of those veterans who take their lives are not within the V.A. system,” he said. “And that majority also impacts the Vietnam generation.”
The V.A. is now offering same day mental health services and working with other agencies to find those veterans who could benefit, Wilkie added.
“We’ve got to continue to find more ways to get to those folks who are not connected to the V.A.,” Tillis said. “We can hopefully intervene in a positive way.”
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