VA Secretary McDonald delivers keynote speech during Disabled American Veterans conference

VA Secretary Robert McDonald speaks to a Disabled American Veterans conference Aug. 9 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (VA Photo / Reynaldo Leal)

VA Secretary Robert McDonald speaks to a Disabled American Veterans conference Aug. 9 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (VA Photo / Reynaldo Leal)

Secretary Robert McDonald delivered his first address to Disabled American Veterans at their annual conference on Aug. 9, 2014. His speech outlined the problems facing Veterans Affairs and the way ahead. He also reported on his recent visit to the Phoenix VA Medical Center, citing the issues that Veterans are personally telling him. Secretary McDonald also committed to collaborating with veteran service organizations such as DAV and marked it as a top priority in order to make the right changes in the days ahead.

He began by thanking DAV and looking forward.

“It is an honor and a privilege to give my first address as secretary to Disabled American Veterans,” McDonald said. “DAV’s contributions to VA reform discussions on Capitol Hill and across the nation have been of great help—without ever compromising the strong support and confidence you have given to VA for so long. Moving forward, that sort of counsel is going to remain invaluable to me, and I look forward to hearing it.”

Sec. Robert McDonald shows DAV Department of Nevada Commander Bill Anton his 75th Ranger Regiment Association membership card. Bill Anton just so happens to be the President of the association

Sec. Robert McDonald shows DAV Department of Nevada Commander Bill Anton his 75th Ranger Regiment Association membership card. Bill Anton just so happens to be the President of the association. (VA Photo / Reynaldo Leal)

Prior to arriving in Las Vegas to address DAV, Secretary McDonald stopped at the Phoenix VA Health Care System. He told the DAV audience, “There are good people there. They care about serving Veterans, and they are working hard to fix that system so they can provide superior service to Veterans.”

McDonald stressed that although Phoenix and VA have problems and issues with “failed leadership … [Phoenix] is also a story about how some dedicated people who have had the moral courage to stand up and help us serve Veterans better.”

He also highlighted previous remarks by Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson, saying “We can turn these challenges into the greatest opportunity for improvement in the history of the department.”

He also spoke of actions that VA is taking and will take to improve services and accountability, saying, “We know that we cannot tackle all these issues long-term without critical cultural change and accountability.”

McD quote“We are making good progress in getting Veterans off wait lists and fixing scheduling problems,” McDonald said. “We have reached out to over 240,000 Veterans to get them off wait lists and into clinics sooner.”

In the last two months, he said, VA has made more than 791,000 referrals for care in the private sector. In all, McDonald said referrals over the last two months have resulted in about 1.1 million additional appointments.

In addition, “Facilities are adding more clinic hours. We are aggressively recruiting to fill physician vacancies,” he said. And, “We are deploying mobile medical units and using temporary staffing resources to provide care to more Veterans as quickly as possible in all our healthcare facilities.”

Sec. Robert McDonald is reaching out to Veterans, local VSOs and partners at the Las Vegas VAMC. He wants them to know that he wants their help and input #icare

Sec. Robert McDonald is reaching out to Veterans, local VSOs and partners at the Las Vegas VAMC. He wants them to know that he wants their help and input #icare (VA Photo / Reynaldo Leal)

As VA is taking these steps, the appointment scheduling system is being updated and VA is contracting with an outside organization to audit scheduling practices across VHA. Medical center and VISN directors have been directed to conduct regular monthly in-person inspections of clinics – including interacting with scheduling staff – to assess scheduling practices and identify any obstacles to timely care for Veterans.

Overall, VA is looking at ways to update, reorganize or streamline processes and technologies to make providing health care to Veterans a better, more effective experience.

“We are building a more robust, continuous system for measuring patient satisfaction, to provide real-time, site-specific information on patient satisfaction,” he said. “Finally, we are improving communication between the field and the central office, between employees and leadership, and with DAV and other veterans service organizations and stakeholders.”

McDonald said he was grateful to the president and Congress for the opportunity to lead VA, and that he has a lot to learn, as quickly as possible.

“But I know this already—the fastest, most up-to-date technology and systems are no substitute for looking at ourselves through the eyes of Veterans,” he said. “When we do that, our direction and requirements will be crystal clear.”

U.S. Navy Veteran Rick Henderson stops Sec. Robert McDonald to talk about the care he's received at the Las Vegas VAMC

U.S. Navy Veteran Rick Henderson stops Sec. Robert McDonald to talk about the care he’s received at the Las Vegas VAMC. (VA Photo / Reynaldo Leal)

Before coming to VA, McDonald spent 33 years at Proctor & Gamble, where he learned the importance of effective management, strong leadership and of being responsive to the needs of customers. “At P&G, we worked hard—and successfully—to improve the lives of the world’s consumers. Many of those lessons will help us change VA to better serve Veterans,” he said.

McDonald and his wife, Diane, both come from military families. His father served in the Army Air Corps after World War II and hers was a tail gunner in a B-25 during World War II. Her father was shot down over Europe and survived harsh treatment as a POW. Diane’s uncle served in Vietnam and also was a POW. He still receives care from VA. McDonald’s nephew is a pilot in the Air Force who serves and flies missions in the Middle East.

The secretary graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1975 with Gibson, and after West Point spent time as an Airborne Ranger in the 82nd Airborne Division.

“The words of that West Point Cadet Prayer still guide me, four decades later. It encourages us ‘to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong,’” he said.

Read Secretary McDonald’s full remarks to DAVat http://www.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=2605

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12 Comments to “VA Secretary McDonald delivers keynote speech during Disabled American Veterans conference”

  1. Terry Cobb says:

    Before America’s veterans will have any confidence in our VA System, there will have to be accountability from, and penalties to, those responsible for partaking in the cooking of the books for their own financial gain, at the cost of lives of America’s veterans. That was an unforgivable transgression against every Veteran in America and those people must be held accountable. Until then, McDonald is just seen to be saying what he thinks everyone wants to hear.

  2. Bill Tuey says:

    I sincerely hope Secretary McDonald will honor his commitment to all the veterans he now represents. It will not be an easy task, and we should withhold any judgments until he has the opportunity to identify and fix the problems. He has my best wishes

  3. Terry,

    I am on the same page as you; from a veteran, he has to clean house or nothing will change.

  4. “The secretary graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1975 with Gibson, and after West Point spent time as an Airborne Ranger in the 82nd Airborne Division.”

    If he were an Airborne Ranger like many of us were, then he would’ve served in an actual AIRBORNE RANGER BATTALION.

    As for his remarks? Meet the new boss, same of the old boss . . . and the guy before him, too.

  5. Sheridan Peterson says:

    Dear Secretary McDonald:
    Morale is still very low among the veterans. Thanks to Congressman Mike Thompson my private health records were validated and fallacious comments removed. However, I am still a pariah. For the comments went viral before they could be erased and spread even to the dental school which I have been a patient for some 15 years. Consequently they have caused me irreparable damage. There are doctors and staff member who do not have the veterans best interest at heart and should be fired. The OIG could easily catch them by using undercover agents poising as patients armed with small tape recorders. The advocates often refuse to take the side of the vet. They lack the fiber to stand up to Doctors and staff.

    Cordially,

    Sheridan Peterson

  6. James Charron says:

    As a Veteran of the Vietnam War, I shouldn’t have to wait for anyone that has “control”, over the “decision”, as to whether or not I may or may not be entitled for Agent Orange Compensation, and with that, comes the title of “service connected”; and how many times must (we); I hold “judgement”, on every single “director”, or “replacement director”, that is suppose to be dedicated to “care for those, who fought the battle”….It seems, and appears from one generation to another, the Veteran; male or female, have been more than “patient”, and “non-judgmental”, for many generations. The only issue to try and understand, is why is there so much “corruption”, in the VA, at any and all levels…The “money”, that is “allocated”, to Veterans Health Care is a scandal. The Veteran needs, and deserves first class health-care; and could care less, that there are “beautiful”, corridors, “fountains”, “color-coordinated” chairs, etc., etc., and the list goes on, and isn’t limited to spreading these health care funds to “promotions”, “awards/rewards”, financially or otherwise. The Veterans cares for one thing; “The Best of the Best Health Care Money Can Buy”. We are after all; the “Greatest Country on Earth”, and yet the VA would rather buy a NEW DESK, for that promoted employee, etc., than to give the Veteran who made all of the above possible, through their dedication and sacrifice.You folks may get and understand the powers that hold and control the life of the Veterans health care, with greed; I don’t get it!!!! I DIGRESS!!!!!! I PASS JUDGEMENT NOW!!! This will be the same old RHETORIC!!! The GREED of UPPER MANAGEMENT, etc., will continue on. It’s Humanoid Nature to do so.

  7. Jerry Schalski says:

    I have been trying to get service connection since 2004. I am being told that my file is with a Veteran Law Judge and it has been there for 5 months.

    I am on critical care at the Dallas VA and I am going to have heart surgery. I had to go to Baylor Hospital for my first heart surgery because I would have died while waiting on the VA to treat me.

    I almost lost my home because of that bill. I am told that I will have a big expense on this surgery as well; because of not having service connection status.

    Please advise!!!

  8. Dumet School says:

    Thank you so much for useful information. Really appreciate it.

  9. That’s great article and very useful for us. Very good

  10. Ed Ball says:

    If a deceased veteran, i.e., Blue Water Navy Vietnam veteran, was classified by VA Eligibility Centers as being Priority Group Eight, meaning their Income threshold exceeded VA/HUD household income, then yes, these PG 8 veterans would have been denied medical services, and met their demise through other facilities.

    As a result if you take into consideration USAID is in DaNang today, through remediation efforts, USAID and Vietnam government personnel are cleansing the soil/water/aquatic vegetation of TCDD levels that are considered 365 times the global safety allowances per the Hatfield Group reports. VA continues to see DaNang Harbor as a Blue Water Port, where in reality it was dredged annually due to monsoons, first cargo ship didn’t arrive until 1966, USNS Geiger a Troop Ship ran aground in 13 feet of water in the same harbor in 1967. Mobile Construction Battalion 133 put an 8 inch water pipe in an open water reservoir across the river at Marble Mountain, and piped the water to the water treatment plant at Camp Tien Sha collocated at NSA DaNang (found in declassified MACV Monthly Summary reports). The processed water was placed in large Water Camels and taken to ships at anchorage. Operation Ranch Hand operated out of DaNang airport, therefore the open water reservoir would have been contaminated with AO mist.
    Yes our government realizes the contamination, and the dangers to our troops, but with Congress, it’s all about the money. In the mean time Blue Water Navy veterans will continue to be discriminated against by their own government.