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Veterans Crisis Line Badge

Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Secretary Robert A. McDonald

Video Message to VA Employees
Washington, DC
July 31, 2014

Secretary Robert A. McDonald Video Message to VA Employees July 31, 2014

My name is Bob McDonald, and it is both an honor and a privilege to serve as your Secretary. I want to take this opportunity to introduce myself and explain what I believe is a way forward for the Department.

First, I am grateful to President Obama and to Congress for entrusting me with this opportunity to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs. We are all immensely fortunate to work in an organization chartered with serving our Nation’s Veterans.

Next, I want to share a little about myself, as a way of introduction. In a short, introductory e-mail message, I provided a document outlining some of my leadership principles, and I pointed you to some video resources that further explain these principles. I encourage you all to read and listen to those messages.

My wife, Diane, and I have two wonderful children, Jenny and Rob, and we come from military families. My father served in the Army Air Corps after World War II. Diane’s father was shot down over Europe and survived harsh treatment as a prisoner of war. Diane’s uncle was exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam, and he still receives care from VA. And right now my nephew serves in the Air Force. So, for me, taking care of Veterans is personal.

I graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1975 with our Deputy Secretary, Sloan Gibson—a great leader and a good friend of mine for many years. My time at West Point and then as an Airborne Ranger in the 82nd Airborne Division instilled in me a lifelong sense of duty to country and strong values. Even after nearly four decades, I am still guided by West Point’s Cadet Prayer. That prayer encourages us “to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong.”

I worked at Procter & Gamble for more than 33 years, and those experiences taught me the importance of effective management, strong leadership, and of being responsive to the needs of customers. These lessons are important at VA, as well. VA’s Strategic Plan states that “VA is a customer-service organization. We serve Veterans.” These values and leadership experiences will inform my actions and decisions at VA.

Next, let me share my thoughts about how we are going to fulfill our important responsibility of serving Veterans.

I know you are aware of the critical challenges we face today, but Deputy Secretary Gibson had it right in his recent statement to Congress. He said, “We can turn these challenges into the greatest opportunity for improvement in the history of the Department.” I look forward to seizing this unique opportunity, leading this change, and working with you in accomplishing our mission.

To do that, I need to hear your ideas for improving the Department. I urge you to bring to your managers’ and my attention your concerns and significant issues so that I know what’s wrong and can make necessary changes to improve. As well, I want to know when we are doing excellent work to serve Veterans. I won’t tolerate those who stifle initiative, who seek to punish people who raise legitimate concerns, or those who lack integrity in word or deed. Trust is essential in everything we do.

I know that the last few months have been difficult. The days ahead will not be easy. Positive change and our mission will require and demand from all of us great courage, determination, integrity, and self-discipline. But you have my word that I am going to be with you every step of the way.

I have much to learn about VA, and I look forward to gaining valuable input and insights from you, Veterans, and our other stakeholders.

My job as your Secretary is to lead the change in VA that results in consistent, better outcomes for Veterans as we fulfill President Lincoln’s charge to care for those “who shall have borne the battle” and for their families. To me, that means providing Veterans—effectively and efficiently—the high-quality care and benefits that they have earned.

So, here are a few points on how we are going to move forward to better serve Veterans. First, I know that the vast majority of you understand that our non-negotiable commitment is to put outcomes for Veterans at the center of everything we do. Caring for Veterans is a calling, and our first commitment is to provide them and their families the timely, quality care and benefits they have earned and deserve through their service to our Nation.

Second, we have strong institutional values to guide us—Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect, and Excellence. We will all need to live by those values as we rise to meet the challenges ahead. I ask all of you to join me in reaffirming our commitment to these core values.

Third, VA has a good Strategic Plan. If you are not familiar with it, download it and read it or re-read it. We will renew our focus on that plan. Each of you has to know how your work, every day, ties back to the Strategic Plan and our mission of caring for Veterans. To that end, annual performance reviews will be based on the Strategic Plan and the mission for the Department.

Fourth, where it will best serve Veterans, we are going to reorganize to more efficiently and effectively use our resources.

Also, I want to improve the communication between those of you working in the field and the Central Office. So, among other efforts, I am going to travel extensively over my first several months to hear directly from you, our employees, our Veterans, and other stakeholders—I want to learn as much about VA as quickly as I can. I am also going host quarterly video conferences with field leadership to keep lines of communication open and productive.

Finally, I know that the vast majority of you are deeply dedicated to the mission and VA’s core values. But where that is not the case—where there has been a violation of the trust of the Nation and of Veterans—there will be accountability. This is about restoring the trust of Veterans, of our elected representatives, and all Americans.

VA has made great strides in serving Veterans, thanks to your commitment and dedication. And we will continue to depend on the strong support of Congress and on collaboration with Veterans Service Organizations, non-profits, volunteers, and many other stakeholders. But right now, Veterans are in need, and we have work to do.

I can think of no higher calling than to work with all of you as “one team with one dream,” providing Veterans the best care and services in an efficient and timely manner. With your support, I am confident we will succeed.

Thank you. I look forward to meeting you and working with you. May God bless Veterans, all of you and your families, and this great Nation.