ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The last time the U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs came to the Albany Stratton VA Medical Center for an official visit was in 2012. Monday, secretary Denis McDonough received a tour of the facility with New York Congressman Paul Tonko.

“I’m eager to see what’s happening here in terms of patient care, in terms of access to COVID treatments,” McDonough said. “We want to make sure that we can provide care for all veterans, especially women veterans, who in just a couple of decades will be one and three of all veterans.”

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, women are the fastest-growing group within the Veteran population. 

However, Emily DiSalvo, Women Veteran Program Manager, said women don’t always feel comfortable coming into the VA’s predominantly male space.

“If they’ve experienced some kind of trauma in the military or otherwise, it might not be an environment that they prefer to go to,” DiSalvo said.

Currently, they have an expansive women’s health center on the 8th floor, but they are only servicing around half of eligible female vets. Plans are in the works to effort a more private facility, an idea they planned to pitch to Secretary McDonough.

“We’re hoping to open a big center of excellence for women veterans in our facility that will be free-standing,” Dr. Suzanne Mesidor, Women’s Health Medical Director, said.

They hope this will bring in the other estimated 3,500 female veterans who aren’t taking advantage of services.

Another stop for McDonough was the National Center for Adaptive Neurotechnologies. “Its job is to develop new technologies that can interact with the nervous system,” Dr. John Wolpaw, Neurologist, said.

The center is currently working on a new therapy that reteaches the nerves to improve functions for those with head and spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, strokes, and more. The non-invasive approach produces a reflex similar to a “knee jerk reflex.”

At this time, a number of labs are using this therapy in clinical research, but the dream is to develop a device for clinicians to utilize widely within a few years. 

McDonough said the Albany Stratton VA is an innovation leader for Veterans Affairs on a national level, and these visits are vital to improving care.

“We’re able to meet with local veteran organizations, local veterans to hear what is on their minds,” McDonough said.