|[August 26, 2014]
McDonald: 'This is a Critical Moment for VA'
CHARLOTTE, N.C. --(Business Wire)--
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald assured The American
Legion today at its 96th annual national convention in
Charlotte, N.C., that "your contributions to VA reform discussions have
been of great help…. There's no question that this is a critical moment
The former chief executive of Procter & Gamble said in his prepared
remarks that the Department of Veterans Affairs "may not be concerned
about quarterly profit and loss statements or shareholder value, but it
does have a bottom line -- veterans," and that VA "will get beyond its
present difficulties and be the stronger for it."
A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy whose father served in the Army
Air Corps, McDonald said "some people's behavior was at odds with VA's
mission and core values…. The truth of the matter is that we've failed
in a number of ways. We need to do better - much better."
Changes aimed at correcting VA's problems, McDonald said, are being made
in the areas of process, leadership and resources.
Process initiatives have included outreach to more than 266,000 veterans
to get them off wait-lists and into VA facilities for treatment. In the
past two months, VA has made nearly 912,000 referrals for veterans to
receive health care from private practitioners. Since May 15th,
the number of VA enrollees waiting for appointments has gone down by 57
VA's current appointment-scheduling system is being updated and will be
replaced by a suprior off-the-shelf commercial system. The 14-day goal
for scheduling appointments, which was apparently not attainable at many
VA facilities, has been removed as a criterion by which management
performance is measured - thereby eliminating the temptation to falsify
McDonald said too many VA leaders "failed to set the standard for
honesty and integrity, and quash the culture of self-protection and
retaliation." Since last May, two senior VA executives have resigned or
retired and three more have been placed on administrative leave, pending
the results of investigations. More than 100 are now being conducted by
VA's Office of Inspector General and by the independent Office of
Special Counsel (the FBI is also involved in some of the cases).
"In addition to leadership accountability issues, we're also addressing
cultural issues and creating a more open VA," McDonald told thousands of
Legionnaires in the audience. Performance awards for senior executives
at the Veterans Health Administration have been frozen for fiscal 2014.
"I'm listening carefully to veterans and to our VSO (veterans service
organization) partners, like the Legion, and to our own hard-working
"I want to know when you and other veterans are not being served well,
and when you are."
Discussing the allocation by Congress of an additional $15 billion for
VA, McDonald said his department must demonstrate it "can operate with
the same levels of efficiency, customer service, and financial
discipline as the best-run companies in America.
"We need to do a better job of forecasting. It's essential for us to
reliably predict future demand for services so we can make good
decisions about budgets, about support systems and about people."
Inadequate forecasting, McDonald said, was partially responsible for
severe staffing shortages at some VA facilities. "And so recruiting is
Job One right now." Later in the week, he plans to launch VA's new
recruiting efforts at Duke University's medical school. "Recruiting
isn't just for HR."
McDonald also promised to work on a problem that has long bedeviled VA
and the Department of Defense (DoD): an interoperable electronic health
record for servicemembers and veterans alike. "VA-DoD synergy is
critical. I see part of that as working with (Defense) Secretary (Chuck)
Hagel to create an integrated records system."
Admitting that his agenda is ambitious, McDonald said "It can be done
with The American Legion's help and the support of all VSOs. Close
collaboration and ongoing dialogue are priorities - no organization can
operate successfully in a vacuum."
American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger thanked McDonald
"for the steps that you've already taken … to put trust back in for the
stakeholders, our veterans. And believe me, sir, we're looking forward
to our partnership with you, and you will be hearing from us."
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