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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Secretary Eric K. Shinseki

National VA Research Week Kick-Off
Washington, DC
April 30, 2009

Joel, thank you for that kind introduction.  Welcome everyone to this uniquely important ceremony. 


I’m quite honored to be here to be here today.  There are very few duties that I perform which are more gratifying or enjoyable than commending those who do outstanding work on behalf of Veterans.  That’s what today is about—saying thank you to some wonderfully creative and determined people.  


The list of VA’s research achievements is quite significant.  As a non-clinician, I can’t quite convey to you the full measure of our many impressive research achievements, but it is substantial.  Here are a few critical stand outs: 


  • The implantable cardiac pacemaker; 
  • The first successful liver transplants; 
  • The nicotine patch to help smokers quit smoking; 
  • Improved wheelchair designs; 
  • Artificial limbs that move naturally when stimulated by electrical impulses from the brain. 

Hopes turned into realities.  That’s what VA research is all about.  Inspired and dedicated researchers collaborating with our public- and private-sector partners, and Veterans, themselves, as research volunteers turn hopes into realities.  With each magnificent accomplishment, we keep hope alive for those who wait.  They wait to see whether we are as good as we think we are and whether we care enough to fulfill their hopes during their lifetimes.  Hope is a powerful ingredient in treatment.  Those who wait should know that we, in VA research, are as good as we say are, and we do care enough.  So keep hope alive!   


In recognizing our honorees this afternoon, I want to take this opportunity to challenge all the rest of us to grow and expand VA’s legacy of leadership in cutting-edge research and achievements.  In recognizing two of our most distinguished researchers today, we demonstrate that we are good enough to solve the challenges facing many of our clients—indeed, many of the world’s hopeful.  So let us not disappoint.  


The president charged me with transforming VA into a 21st century model for governance.  The first step is a fundamental and comprehensive review of all that we do.  We need to understand the basics, identify what we’re doing well and what needs improvement, and then move boldly to leverage the change that’s needed.


It’s an opportunity to reset the department’s vectors according to three fundamental principles:  

  1. First, people-centric:  This department is people—Veterans and the professionals who serve them.  
  2. Second, results-driven:  We will be judged by our accomplishments, not by our promises.  
  3. And third, forward-looking:  We recognize those we honor today for the foresight in their discoveries, their innovation, and their ground-breaking research.  Those are exactly the characteristics we want VA to be known for—and where scholarship, creativity, determination, and productivity flourish.    

VA’s research and development program is essential to providing cutting-edge, 21st century care to today’s Veterans.  We can’t deliver the highest-quality health care without being a leader in health care research.  Where VA leads, we must continue to lead; where it lags, we must seize the initiative and take up the lead.  


As most in research know well, collaboration is critical to leadership in health care research.  Much of VA’s success has come through collaboration.  We have partnered with the National Institute on Aging to study Alzheimers disease and with the National Institutes of Health to study arthritis.  Working with the Army and academic researchers, VA helped to develop an oral drug to treat smallpox.    


In a few minutes, you will hear about a new study on an advanced artificial arm.  That study is a collaborative effort between VA and the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA). 


Many of these research collaborations would not be possible without the voluntary participation of Veterans themselves.  We are doubly indebted to these men and women; we owe them for their service in uniform, and we owe them for their research assistance afterwards.


Research drives health care, and the contributions of those in this room drive research.  As with all organizations, our people are the heart and soul of the department.  Labs and experiments, by themselves, do not produce breakthroughs; technology and processes don’t take care of Veterans; buildings and facilities do not drive quantum change; electronic records and information technology, alone, do not propel an organization to be the very best.  People do.  And where people are involved, leadership counts.  


And so for all that you do, you have my heartfelt thanks and commitment to energize and ramp up our research initiatives.  Living in an amputee ward 39 years ago, I dreamed of the kinds of prosthetic devices being produced today.  I and my Vietnam buddies, in the painful throes of recovery, wondered when you all would achieve our dreams.  Will it be another 40 years before the sightless and the deaf see and hear again.  They’re hoping.  When will burn victims get their faces back—not someone else’s, but theirs?    Let’s keep hope alive!     


And now, it is my special pleasure to present awards to two truly outstanding researchers—and great men—who have done their part to keep hope alive.  Thank you.