U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie praised a housing community for veterans in Gentilly as a model for future public-private partnerships by his agency during a visit to New Orleans on Tuesday.
During a tour of the Bastion Community of Resilience, Wilkie also said President Donald Trump will outline a more expansive program to involve the private sector in veterans' care going forward.
“The future is public-private partnerships. Issues that we’re facing in Veterans Affairs are the same as we’re facing in the rest of the country: opioids, homelessness, mental health issues,” Wilkie said. “Any way we can find to provide a new path for veterans is important for us.
“That means choice. That means for veterans here in New Orleans, if we can’t take care of them here at the VA (Medical Center) in a timely fashion, they can choose to go into the private sector."
Bastion consists of a series of homes on Mirabeau Avenue for veterans, their families and community members who assist in supporting them. The site has more than 50 households in clusters of single-family housing, with a staff of six.
“For us, it’s not just a high honor. It's a stamp of validation that we hold the keys of hope and reintegration for our warriors that are rotating off the battlefield or transitioning out of the military,” Bastion Executive Director Dylan Tête said of Wilkie’s visit.
Wilkie toured one of the model homes on the site and met with staff members and residents.
The main purpose of his visit to New Orleans is to attend the National Veterans Small Business Engagement Conference at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. While at the conference Thursday, he’s expected to sign an agreement with Linda McMahon, head of the U.S. Small Business Administration, to expand a joint program of management and leadership training for veterans seeking to become entrepreneurs.
In addition, Wilkie stopped by Kehoe-France School in Metairie earlier in the day and plans to visit the VA hospital.
Ironically, Bastion’s development was actually imperiled earlier this year by another Trump administration policy. The Republican tax cut bill slashed the corporate tax rate, sending the value of the tax credits the project relied on plummeting and threatening the viability of several low-income developments.
Other funding eventually came through for the development.
Wilkie, who has been on the job about two months, said he couldn’t speak to specific funding issues or programs. But he said he’s working on coming up with ways to improve services for veterans.
“I am speaking to state and local governments and private entities, looking at the way to expand the aperture that veterans have not only for care but for living and for caregiving, particularly for their families,” Wilkie said.