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Veterans Crisis Line Badge

Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson

Office of Special Counsel (OSC) Public Servant of the Year Awards
Washington, DC
December 3, 2014

We are about important work here this morning—important because it’s imperative in any health care organization that front-line staff continuously identify opportunities to improve the quality of care and standards of patient safety; important because employee input is critical to the transformation just beginning at VA.

Let me explain.

MyVA is the largest department-wide transformation in VA’s history. It’s about nothing less than turning VA into a world-class, customer-focused, Veteran-centered service organization. It’s about building an organization defined by Veteran outcomes and the satisfaction of those we serve.

What does MyVA look like? We don’t know yet. We announced the vision, but it’s our employees who are helping define the transformation.

The approach to MyVA is both bottom up and top down. Top down in the sense that there are a few overarching features:

  • A VA-wide customer service organization reporting to the Secretary and driving customer service excellence to Veterans;
  • A single regional framework simplifying internal coordination, facilitating partnerships, and enhancing customer service;
  • A national network of community Veteran advisory councils coordinating better service delivery with state and community partners and VA employees.
  • And a shared services model improving effectiveness, reducing costs, and increasing productivity across VA.

At the same time, the transformation is being driven from the bottom up, by employees.

Why? Bob and I both come from the private sector. We know that the best ideas for innovation and continuous improvement come from front-line employees. No one knows better how to serve our Veterans than our 340,000 employees across the Department—a third Veterans themselves.

So the last thing we can permit is an environment where employees are afraid to raise their hands when something isn’t right, or when they see better ways to serve Veterans.

That’s why we all renewed our pledge to live by our VA values.

That’s why we worked with OSC to earn certification under its Whistleblower Protection Certification Program.

That’s why we worked so closely with Special Counsel Lerner and her staff to streamline and expedite make-whole remedies for Whistleblowers who have experienced reprisal.

That’s why we committed to hold accountable those who retaliate against Whistleblowers. I’m reminded of President Obama’s recent comment that “if you blow the whistle on higher-ups because you’ve identified a legitimate problem, you shouldn’t be punished. You should be protected.” Personally, I would add that you should be praised.

That’s why we created the web-based VA Idea House, where 22,000 employees have already engaged to help shape MyVA and have a positive impact on Veteran outcomes.

And that’s why it is so important to be here today to recognize these three exemplary public servants.

You see, while we still have vast work to do, I believe that it’s because of Dr. Katherine Mitchell that access to care in Phoenix is beginning to improve. I believe it’s because of Dr. Phyllis Hollenbeck and Dr. Charles Sherwood that Veterans are beginning to receive better care in Mississippi.

So to all three of you, on behalf of the entire Department and all the Veterans we serve, thank you for living our values and being an example to all of us.

Our work this morning is important because it directly impacts the Veteran outcomes we deliver.

Chairman Miller—thank you for your strong support of Veterans, and I look forward to continuing our work together.

Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner—thank you for our strong partnership. You and your experts are helping us to create a just culture at VA, where employees are encouraged to raise their hands and raise their voices to improve outcomes for Veterans.

It’s what Veterans—and our employees–deserve.

Thank you.