ASSISTANT SECRETARY DESIGNATE
PUBLIC AND INTERGOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS
DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS
SENATE COMMITTEE ON VETERANS' AFFAIRS
June 8, 1999
Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, it is a great honor for me to be the President’s nominee for Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs of the Department of Veterans Affairs. I am extremely grateful to President Clinton and Secretary West for their confidence in me to fulfill the responsibilities of this office.
I am also looking forward to the prospect of continuing my service to veterans. As you know, I am an Air Force veteran. Before I came to VA in 1994, I spent nearly 11 years on the national headquarters staff of The American Legion in Washington, and I appeared before this committee several times. I am proud of my service to my country, and to my fellow veterans.
I tell you that because I think it is important for you to understand that I take advocacy seriously, and I take clear and honest communication seriously.
Today, the Department continues to meet a number of challenges, including the rapid aging of our veteran population, the plight of homeless veterans as well as health concerns such as the effects of exposure to dioxin in Vietnam, the health problems facing Gulf War veterans, and our newest health threat – Hepatitis C.
Telling veterans and their families about the programs they have available to them is a critical part of VA’s mission, and one we must continue to refine and develop. That means we will look at new ways of communicating with veterans and their advocacy groups.
As Deputy Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs, I worked with the IGA staff at VA to improve the level of communication with the State Directors of Veterans Affairs, and the administrators of state veterans homes. We encouraged the participation of senior VA leaders at these groups’ national and Washington meetings. We expanded our weekly mailings, to include more information. And, we worked with the groups to develop electronic mail capability, so we could share some information instantly.
I also oversaw the coordination of the Department’s work with other federal, state and local agencies and departments. I was very concerned that so few federal agencies were aware of the work VA did – especially when it came to issues such as health care and care for America’s homeless.
We’ve improved on that during the past four years, by participating in a number of inter-agency groups to ensure that our mutual efforts were complementary.
Another measure of our success is that state governments have begun to call on us for clarification of VA policies, or for information they can use to inform their citizens. I am very proud of our continuing efforts to improve our outreach.
VA’s Office of Public Affairs is responsible for sharing information about VA’s programs, and answering the media’s questions about our policies. The staff of 41 includes personnel at VA’s central office, and OPA’s seven field offices (Washington, DC; Atlanta, GA; Dallas, TX; Los Angeles, CA; Denver, CO; Chicago, IL; and New York).
In addition, VA’s public affairs efforts are enhanced by public affairs officers at VA’s medical centers, regional offices and cemeteries, who report to the Veterans Health Administration, the Veterans Benefits Administration and National Cemetery Administration, respectively. We have dramatically improved the communications among VA elements by integrating each of the Administrations’ central office public affairs officers into the Office of Public Affairs. That transition will be complete at the beginning of Fiscal Year 2000.
While OPA’s field offices do not provide direct supervision of the disparate public affairs activities at our facilities, the staff does provide counsel on a day-to-day basis. Additionally, our annual public affairs conferences provide several hundred VA public affairs practitioners – both full and part time – with training and an opportunity to share experiences with people from across the system.
The increased speed of communication and the number of potential information outlets available today make it imperative that the Department continue to explore new and efficient ways of communicating with the nation’s veterans and their families. As information (and misinformation) grows on
e-mail and the Internet, VA must be positioned to respond in ways that are meaningful to the people we serve.
I am confident that I can lead the efforts to accomplish this, and I look forward to working with you as we move forward.