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Veterans Crisis Line Badge

Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Secretary Robert A. McDonald

JPMorgan Chase Veterans Day Luncheon
New York, NY
November 12, 2014

It’s been a busy week for VA and for me personally, but I couldn’t miss an opportunity to thank Jamie Dimon, Matt Zames, and everyone else here at JPMorgan Chase, for your outstanding support for our Veterans, our Armed Forces, and the US Military Academy.

At VA, we’re reminded every day of Veterans’ outsized contributions to our country. It’s our pride and privilege to care for those who have “borne the battle.” Without question, it’s the most noble and inspiring mission in government.

Nowadays, the Nation does a much better job of honoring our Veterans than it used to.

But Veterans are still a minority in this country. Less than seven percent are Veterans, and less than point-seven percent are currently serving—2.2 million out of 318 million.

Some communities and occupations have even fewer Veterans, so it’s important to remind people of the sacrifices Veterans make. It’s especially important that our policy-makers, opinion-leaders, and employers understand what it means to be a Veteran. They need to know what Veterans have experienced, what they’ve accomplished, and what they can accomplish as leaders, laborers, and citizens.

So I applaud all of you at JPMorgan Chase for your efforts on behalf of Veterans — your leadership of the 100,000 Jobs Mission; your housing assistance, education assistance, and volunteerism; your debt forgiveness for Gold Star families; and all the many other things you do that make JPMorgan Chase a true leader in corporate support for Veterans.

Right now, the Department of Veterans Affairs has before it perhaps its greatest opportunity to enhance care for Veterans in its history. Last July, my friend and deputy Sloan Gibson met with Dr. Harvey Fineberg, distinguished health care leader. When Sloan commented that VA could accomplish more in the next two-to-three years than we could have in two-2-to-three decades, Dr. Fineberg corrected him: “No!” he said, “VA can accomplish things now it never could have accomplished!”

He’s right: We’re in an extraordinary position. We have an opportunity to not only right wrongs, but to lengthen our lead in areas where we’ve always excelled, take the lead in service delivery areas that are lagging, and chart new ground in emerging or evolving areas of healthcare.

In the past three months—on our “Road to Veterans Day”—we’ve set our sights on three nonnegotiable goals:

  • Rebuild trust with Veterans and stakeholders,
  • Improve service delivery, focusing on Veteran outcomes,
  • And set a course for long-term excellence and reform.

We’ve made progress on all three:

  • From June through September, we completed over a million more appointments in our facilities than in the same months last year.
  • We also authorized over one million Veterans to receive care outside VA—a 46 percent increase over last year.
  • We have developed a “Blueprint for Excellence” to re-establish VA’s leadership in health care, and we’ve begun what may become the largest restructuring in the department’s history.
  • We call that reorganization MyVA because that’s how Veterans should view us—as an organization that belongs to them and provides quality care in the ways they need and want to be served.

This week, we’ve also begun implementing the new Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act—or “Choice Act”—which provides $5 billion to hire more doctors, nurses, and other medical staff, and $10 billion to fund additional purchased care while building internal capability.

VA has always used purchased care when needed, but with the Choice Act, we’re taking it to a new level with our new Veterans Choice Program. Just this week, we stood up a special call center to verify eligibility and answer questions about the program. The number to call is 1-866-606-8198.

We have also begun extending the option of purchased care to eligible Veterans who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility. In the coming month, we’ll do the same for those who have been waiting too long for an appointment—meaning more than 30 days from the clinically appropriate date or the date preferred by the Veteran.

In a few months, every Veteran enrolled for VA healthcare will have a new Veterans Choice Card, to use for authorized non-VA care in the future. The first Choice Cards were mailed out this week.

The Veterans Choice Program can be a big part of the solution to our access problem, but the new law is extremely complex, and we need to make sure we get things right. We need to make sure VA doctors and non-VA doctors both know what the other is doing for each Veteran, and that Veterans get the screening and preventive care they need. We also need to make seeking and receiving purchased care as easy as possible for both Veterans and physicians.

For those reasons, we’ve signed contracts with two healthcare companies with experience running similar programs—TriWest and HealthNet—and we’ll be working with them to administer the Choice program in the best way possible.

The Choice Act will go a long way toward enabling VA to meet the current demand for care, and to support the large-scale reforms we’re making for long-term excellence.

But one thing I’ve learned since my confirmation as Secretary is that there is no substitute for VA, Veterans need VA, and Americans everywhere benefit from VA:

  • From VA research leading to major breakthroughs in medical science and care;
  • From VA training of 70 percent of America’s physicians—62,000 medical students and residents, 23,000 nurses, and 33,000 other health professionals—each year.
  • And from VA’s highly specialized knowledge and know-how to deliver clinical and rehabilitative care to those who have “borne the battle.”

And remember: Healthcare is just one of nine VA lines of business. Our other lines include life insurance, mortgage insurance, education, pensions, disability compensation, memorial affairs. We’ve got reasons to be proud of those areas as well:

  • We’ve cut the disability claims backlog by 60 percent in the last 20 months.
  • We completed 1.3 million claims for Veterans in FY 2014—150,000 more than last year.
  • We guarantee two million home loans—with the lowest foreclosure rate and highest satisfaction rate in mortgage lending.
  • For the past decade, the American Customer Satisfaction Index has ranked our cemetery system the top customer-service organization in the Nation, public or private, and
  • Since 2004, the same index has also shown that Veterans give VA healthcare higher ratings than patients at most private hospitals.

With the right strategies and support, there’s no reason why we can’t scale that performance excellence VA-wide, but we cannot do what needs to be done without public and private partners—especially on the jobs front.

We need to educate employers on the value of Veterans as leaders and workers.

Past generations returning from Europe and Asia made this country great. Today’s generation of Veterans can do the same. They are disciplined, dedicated, and hardworking, with a wealth of knowledge, skills, and experience. They have learned to put service before self, bridge differences to accomplish shared goals, persevere in the face of obstacles, choose “the harder right instead of the easier wrong,” and set the example for others to follow.

VA is doing what it can to hire Veterans and to help them find jobs elsewhere. We recently stood up the Veterans Employment Center, or VEC—an online portal with a skills translator, resume builder, and other job-related resources. We’re partnering with LinkedIn to make the VEC the primary means of connecting employers with transitioning Service-members and Veterans—spouses, too. We’re also encouraging employers to make hiring commitments on the site and become featured employers to Veterans looking for employment.

But we still need employers to take an interest, and we need industry leaders who understand the value of Veterans to take the lead in communicating that value to other employers. That’s why we’re looking forward to working with JPMorgan Chase on new ways to serve Veterans in the future.

At a time when our country faces so many challenges, we need to make the most of what Veterans have to offer, and they need and deserve our help in making the sometimes difficult transition to civilian life.

So by investing in Veterans, we’re investing in America. As Sloan likes to say, it’s both the smart thing to do and the right thing to do.

Thanks again for all you do for Veterans. Special thanks to the Veterans here today for your service to the Nation.