US Veterans Affairs Secretary Visits UW

man talking to two other men
U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough, center, speaks with two UW student veterans following an hourlong question-and-answer session Thursday in the Wyoming Union. (UW Photo)

U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough visited the University of Wyoming Thursday, answering questions from UW student veterans and meeting with President Ed Seidel and other university leaders in support of those students.

Accompanied by other VA officials, McDonough spoke with about 30 student veterans for an hour, mostly answering questions about educational and health benefits while praising them for their pursuit of higher education. He also got a look at UW’s Marna M. Kuehne Foundation Veterans Services Center (VSC) on the third floor of the Wyoming Union.

McDonough described the VSC -- where student veterans can network with one another and receive support, under the leadership of UW employees who are veterans themselves -- as a “best practice” for universities.

“When student veterans are offered the opportunity to network with one another in an actual physical space and get that fellowship and support, they will thrive,” he said.

The secretary, who leads the massive federal Department of Veterans Affairs, stopped at UW as part of a visit to VA facilities and other locations in Wyoming, where he said about 25,000 of the state’s estimated 50,000 military veterans are enrolled in VA programs. He described the visit as “inspiring” and “a great opportunity for the VA.”

“This is a state with an amazing commitment to our country,” McDonough said.

Marty Martinez, who directs the VSC, says it’s the first time in his 12 years in that role that such a high-ranking VA official has visited UW. The university has 694 students who are either military veterans or dependents of veterans receiving VA benefits.

“We were a little worried about the what tone of the meeting would be, but the students were very professional and polite,” Martinez says, noting that many of the veterans had individual concerns about their VA benefits. “Meetings like this help to reset that tone. There’s still work to be done, but this is a step in the right direction to restoring trust.”

During his confirmation hearing in January 2021, McDonough testified to Congress, “I will work tirelessly to build and restore VA’s trust as the premier agency for ensuring the well-being of America’s veterans. After all, there is no more sacred obligation nor noble undertaking than to uphold our promises to our veterans, whether they came home decades ago or days ago.”

Also present for the secretary’s visit to UW were representatives of the state’s congressional delegation and state veterans service agencies.

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