Secretary of Veterans Affairs visits Durham VA Friday

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Secretary of Veterans Affairs visited the Durham VA Friday (WTVD)

The Durham VA Medical Center welcomed a special guest to tour the facility Friday.

Dr. David Shulkin, the Secretary of Veteran Affairs, visited the Durham VA, the facility that made national headlines in February when photos of a veteran lying on the floor surfaced.

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"He just kind of laid down and said, 'I can't get up, I won't get up. "



Shulkin didn't mention the incident during his prepared remarks but answered ABC11's questions about whether he was satisfied with the VA's response.

"We, of course, were very concerned when we saw the reports and saw the video and it is not acceptable for us to treat our veterans but the most respect," Shulkin said.

He added appropriate disciplinary action was taken when an employee was removed from patient care after an internal investigation found they were rude to veterans.

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"This is important for our employees to hear," he said. "We will not tolerate behaviors that are not acceptable, but there is due process. And that doesn't mean that every disciplinary action is necessarily going to result in termination, it's going to result in the appropriate level of discipline."

This visit comes just one day after President Donald Trump signed an executive order creating a new whistleblower protection office with the VA Department.

The whistleblower who took the photos that went viral, Marine Veteran Stephen McMenamin, talked with ABC11 after watching Shulkin's remarks via live stream Friday.

"I was watching it and gritting my teeth the whole time," said Stephen McMenamin of Raleigh. "The wait times, the conditions, are just amazingly bad and for them to say that that's OK and to sweep it under the rug so casually is very upsetting to me."

Shulkin said during his tour of the facility, he met with veterans and staff.

"This is overwhelmingly a place where the employees are very engaged and committed to serving veterans," he said.

Shulkin touted the progress he's made in the Trump Administration's first 100 days, including increased transparency with a new tool that allows veterans to check wait times online.

Shulkin hopes the end of the hiring freeze at clinics that took effect April 12, will also improve veterans' experience.

There are 45,000 open positions VA across the country.

In Durham, Shulkin said they're aggressively recruiting, looking to hire four primary care physicians where wait times are the longest.

"This medical center's providing such quality care that 900 veterans a month are choosing to come here," he said. "And so staying up with that demand and being able to add services and to recruit the teams that we need to be able to take care of those veterans is our greatest need."

McMenamin said he bounces between private care and the VA because he can't always afford the co-pays and medical bills.

"For them to say that there's quality care there is not directly a lie," said McMenamin. "There is some quality care there. But generally speaking, overall, if you give it on an average scale then the quality there is complete garbage. And as for the veterans that continue to go there time after time, it's because they have no choice."

Suicide prevention is also a top priority for Shulkin with a new initiative launching in the next 100 days called "Getting to Zero." Right now, the VA is rolling out a new predictive tool called "Reach Vet."

"We're actually proactively reaching out to those veterans at highest risk of suicide," he said. "Again, no other health system in the country is doing that."

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