TED SIMONS: The Arizona Department of Veterans Services has a new director, Wanda Wright. She brings to the job an extensive background with the Air Force and National Guard. We welcome Wanda Wright to “Arizona Horizon. “Thank you for being here, we appreciate it.
WANDA WRIGHT: Thank you for inviting me.
TED SIMONS: What is -- before we Getz get into the weeds a little bit here, what is the Department of Veterans Services?
WANDA WRIGHT: The state entity that advocates for veterans for employment, for education, for any benefit that a veteran deserves.
TED SIMONS: And your role as director is what?
WANDA WRIGHT: Is to manage that. We have several VSOs, veterans services offices in Arizona across the state. We have two nursing homes that support elderly veterans who need long term medical. And just to make ourselves available to veterans for employment, to help them with homelessness and for education.
TED SIMONS: And how does this department differ from the V.A.?
WANDA WRIGHT: They are federal, and we a restate. That is the biggest difference.
TED SIMONS: But there are other differences as well?
WANDA WRIGHT: There are. We file claims on behalf of our veterans. The federal government pays out those benefits. And site brings money into Arizona and it pays those veterans for the things that they need.
TED SIMONS: So you're a bit of a conduit to the V.A.
WANDA WRIGHT: Very much a conduit.
TED SIMONS: A custom nursing homes you mentioned, veterans -- what are veterans benefits offices? What are they?
WANDA WRIGHT: They are offices that any veteran can show up to and ask for assistance. Whether it's assistance for claiming a disability, whether it’s assistance for trying to get a pension, for any medical issues they have. It offers a help mate to sort of navigate through the process.
TED SIMONS: And you're a fiduciary, as well?
WANDA WRIGHT: We do have that as component of veterans services. We have conservatorship for some veterans who are incapable of dealing with their finances on their own. And we support them with that program.
TED SIMONS: And sounds like the goal is well for coordinate services and organizations with veterans.
WANDA WRIGHT: Yes. Yes, to match them up.
TED SIMONS: Okay. You are the new director. What do you see as your vision? What would you like to change, what would you like to see improve?
WANDA WRIGHT: Well, excuse me, from now we’re working on roadmap to employment. That’s a new program we rolled out in April. And that is a system that will connect employers to our veterans as employees. And it also has a component to it that helps veterans to get prepared for employers. Things like resume building and interviewing skills and being able to sit in front of someone to talk -- and know the language of the corporation, to be able to be successful in getting a job.
TED SIMONS: We've had some shows on this actually, the difficulty that returning veterans have just getting back in society. They go to school just getting back into the concept of going to school with students who haven’t had the same life experiences.
WANDA WRIGHT: Yes, that is correct.
It takes them a little while to reintegrate.
That is part of what we do, as well, to try to get them as quickly as possible integrated with support.
TED SIMONS: With that in mind what are the biggest challenges right for you for your department?
WANDA WRIGHT: Right now I'm trying to work on getting some nope our female veterans .We have approximately 600,000veterans, and if you sort of pasta late that 10%, there’s about 60,000 female veterans. Of that there's a number that are homeless or who need some sort of support in their education or need employment. And so sort of what I would like to put together in the next few weeks is some kind of working group to work on those concerns for female veterans.
TED SIMONS: And you mentioned some of those concerns. We just had a terrible incident outside of a V.A. office with apparently a homeless veteran who was getting some benefits committing suicide. Suicide among veterans, it ‘shard to wrap your arms around. It’s like 22 a day or something like this. What’s out there to help these folks?
WANDA WRIGHT: There is definitely a hotline for veterans for preventing suicide. The thing bit is, all of us need to be able to acknowledge the signs that they see. We have a lot of veterans who come home with disabilities, brain injuries, PTSD. If we can acknowledge that they have these kinds of issues and sort of watch them and take care with them, we can help them and lead them to the right places that can help them.
TED SIMONS: And those services are out there, aren't they?
WANDA WRIGHT: They are out there. There’s a lot of counseling at the V.A., there are counselors outside of that. Some of the places that we have for the homeless there are counselors there, as well.
But they have to find it and the has to find them and keep those situations from happening.
TED SIMONS: What does it mean to be the first woman director of this department?
WANDA WRIGHT: Well, I'm not sure. You know, I am the first but I don’t think it makes me any different than any of the other directors. I'm just going do my about toast try to advocate for the veterans, either through legislation or through programs that we offer. And you know, the great thing that I think I bring to the table is that I was a female veteran or I am actually female veteran. And I feel like some of the concerns that I had when I was kind of reintegrating into civilian life, I can help bring those ladies closer to their future is their quality of life.
TED SIMONS: I was going to say, because it may not seem special to you, but for a lot of folks it's pretty big deal. I don't know if it brings any added pressure to you?
WANDA WRIGHT: It does not.
TED SIMONS: Not even close?
WANDA WRIGHT: No, no.
TED SIMONS: As far as your military career, did you you see something -- what got you into the military?
WANDA WRIGHT: My father. My father was a Vietnam vet, he’s still with us, he's a Vietnam vet. He wanted me to go to WestPoint. I said dad, I think I'd like to apply to all of them and then choose .I can get into most of them. I decided because of technology in the Air Force that would go there. I went to the Air Force academy instead of West Point.
TED SIMONS: I bet your dad's pretty proud.
WANDA WRIGHT: He's very proud.
TED SIMONS: Congratulations, good luck on the job. A lot of things to coordinate mere but sounds like systems are in place and your all set to go. Thanks so much for joining us, we appreciate it.
WANDA WRIGHT: Thank you.