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Get to know Gabriel Pérez, the first Hispanic Medical Center Director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System.

José Cárdenas: The Phoenix V.A. healthcare system serves veterans in central Arizona and outpatient V.A. healthcare clinics. Joining me in tonight's "get to know" is Gabriel Perez, the first Hispanic medical center director of the Phoenix V.A. Thanks for joining us, give us a little back of your background.

Gabriel Perez: I have 42 years, started out in southern California for 10 years and came to Phoenix about 30 years ago and went back to L.A., proprietary and came to the V.A. 22 years ago.

José Cárdenas: Started out in law school and switched to hospital administration. Why?

Gabriel Perez: It was part the curriculum. They had you go to a year of law school and then hospital administration so the whole coursework was about four years long for a doctorate.

José Cárdenas: Where did you come most recently --

Gabriel Perez: Saginaw, Michigan in the middle of summer.

José Cárdenas: The timing of your arrival?

Gabriel Perez: Right, I was there for eight years-Before then I was in Hawaii. So pretty dramatic climate changes for me.

José Cárdenas: You need to work on your timing here.

Gabriel Perez: I think so.

José Cárdenas:: Tell us about the V.A. system here in Arizona.

Gabriel Perez: We're proud of our V.A. healthcare system here in Arizona, specifically in Phoenix. We deliver care to 80,000 veterans projected for this year, and encompasses about 36 counties and offer services primary in mental health and other health services.

José Cárdenas: Now the mental health services, is it related in part to post-traumatic syndrome.

Gabriel Perez: That's correct. As well as other medical problems to put it mildly. Traumatic brain injury, missing of legs and arms and adjustment to that. We also are seeing a rise in PTSS primarily with Vietnam era victims.

José Cárdenas: The first group are the Iraq and Afghanistan war vets?

Gabriel Perez: That's correct. And so we're see egg huge number coming back now, thank god for that, that they're coming back, but a high increase of mental health needs.

José Cárdenas: With respect to the Vietnam victims, why now?

Gabriel Perez: There's a large amount of PTSS, it may lay hidden for 20, 30 years and then comes out and the reason is comes out is because you have other things occupying your time and mind, such as people working. Now the age group, at retirement age so they have more time to think about these things and you see what they call the stressors coming out.

José Cárdenas: Has there been a significant change in healthcare for military personnel, veteran in particular? We had the scandal with Walter Reed hospital and patient care there. What can you tell us about the evolution of patient care?

Gabriel Perez: Walter Reed is a department of defense hospital and the V.A. is separate.

José Cárdenas: Were there similar events with regard to V.A. healthcare?

Gabriel Perez: No, there were not.

José Cárdenas: Have there been changes?

Gabriel Perez: Lessons learned in what not to do, and certain circumstances. There's been more of an attention to veterans as a result of that coming back from Iraq and more attention to traumatic brain injury. And you're seeing the V.A. go out and build out these veterans centers throughout the country. Last year, they added 60. And this year, they're adding 50 more. These are for returning veterans who -- there's more of a storefront operation out in different communities.

José Cárdenas: Now, obviously some of the differences between veterans' care and the private sector would be those issues you're talking about -- treatment --

Gabriel Perez: If I were a private person, I would love to come to the V.A. right now because of the mental health programs we have. During the last five years, we've quintupled the number of staff coming in to treat veterans just for mental health. So developed the programs just to focus on the mental health.

José Cárdenas: I know an area of focus and concern for you is health disparities as they relate to Hispanics.

Gabriel Perez: There's a lot of groups addressing the healthcare disparities. One is the Hispanic medical association. The national forum for Latino healthcare professionals and this group is pushing for resolving disparities, primary obesity, childhood obesity and diabetes. You're going to see more of an emphasis with the present administration backing us up and the attorney general as well, to point out here are the things you should do to alleviate and lessen the amount of diabetes and childhood obesity. One in three Hispanics have these ailments where in the general population, it's one in five. So we should be addressing that and looking more to coming to cures or looking for treatments for those areas.

José Cárdenas: Congratulations on your appointment and welcome back to Phoenix. It's good to have you on the show.

Gabriel Perez: My pleasure.

José Cárdenas: Due to special pledge programming here on eight, "Horizonte" will be preempted next week. So that's our show for tonight. For all of us here at "Horizonte," I'm
José Cárdenas. Have a good evening.

Gabriel Pérez:Medical Center Director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System;

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