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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Secretary Robert A. McDonald

Joining Forces Impact Pledge Anniversary
Washington, DC
May 12, 2015

Remarks by Secretary Robert A. McDonald Joining Forces Impact Pledge Anniversary Washington, DC May 12, 2015

Here’s a little-known fact: My department, the Department of Veterans Affairs, is what it is today because of joining forces. It’s true: In January 1946, my predecessor, Gen. Omar Bradley, issued Policy Memorandum No. 2, which was all about joining forces. The memo established partnerships between the Veterans Administration and medical schools across the country.

Those partnerships had a three-fold purpose:

  1. Give Veterans the highest quality medical care,
  2. Give Veterans the opportunity for post-graduate study, and
  3. Raise the general standard of medical practice in the United States by using VA facilities to train medical professionals.

In other words, the memo created what we call today the “three-legged stool” of VA medical care, benefiting not just Veterans but all Americans—through VA research leading to major breakthroughs in medical science (three Nobel Prizes, seven Lasker Awards, implantable cardiac pacemaker, first successful liver transplants, nicotine patch); through VA training of doctors, nurses, and other health professionals, including 70 percent of the Nation’s physicians; and through VA’s highly specialized expertise in delivering clinical and rehabilitative care to wounded warriors.

Today VA partners with over 1,900 academic and research institutions nationwide, and without their contributions, health care in America wouldn’t be what it is today. That’s why both Veterans and the Nation need VA.

In the past nine months, to meet the rising demand for VA medical care, we’ve extended hours, increased authorizations for non-VA care, and hired more doctors and nurses. As a result—

  • We are completing 97 percent of appointments within 30 days of the Veteran’s preferred date.
  • 20 percent are same-day appointments, and 22 percent are completed by non-VA providers.
  • We complete 500,000 mental health appointments each month, with an average wait time of about three days.
  • And we’ve reduced our Electronic Wait List 55 percent.

With the President’s requested budget, we’ll be able to make the most of our partnerships, and make sure Veterans get the care they need and deserve. But we need the House and Senate to get on board and provide us the necessary funding.

Remember: Healthcare is just one of nine VA lines of business. Our other lines include life insurance, mortgage insurance, education, pensions, disability compensation, and memorial affairs.

We’ve got reasons to be proud of those areas, as well:

  • We’ve cut the disability claims backlog by 70 percent in the past 24 months.
  • 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.

One third of VA employees are Veterans, and with the right strategies and support, there’s no reason why we can’t scale that performance excellence VA-wide.

But what was true in 1946 is still true today: We can’t serve Veterans the way they deserve to be served without public and private partners.

I’ve been at VA for nine months now, and I’ve spent much of that time on the road, visiting VA facilities. Everywhere I go I find philanthropy in action, serving Veterans.

Last month, I was in Palo Alto, where I toured the Defenders Lodge, funded by Lee & Penny Anderson and the PenFed Foundation, where Veterans and their caregivers can stay for free while being treated at the Palo Alto VA.

In March, I was in Colorado for our annual Winter Sports Clinic, sponsored by Disabled American Veterans and a host of corporate donors—Ford, Samsung, Prudential, many others

.

In January, I was in Chicago for a roundtable on an innovative training program to get Veterans working in the natural gas industry, sponsored by City Colleges of Chicago, the Utility Workers Union, and the local utility—Peoples Gas.

And last October, I was in Kanas City for a World Series game dedicated to Veterans, and before the game I was shown what had been an old, empty building that was renovated and brought back to life as a VA hospital annex—through the generosity of the Kansas City Royals, the Bank of America, and Major League Baseball.

The point is, there are plenty of opportunities for foundations and corporations to help out, with existing projects, or with projects all your own—projects you can put a name on, to say, “We did this for America’s Veterans.”

Many of you here today have already stepped up to the plate to help Veterans, and with your help we’ve made great progress helping Veterans find jobs, providing mental health services they need, and ending Veterans homelessness—down 33 percent since 2010. (You’ll hear more about that later this morning.)

I’m grateful for all your help. But I want you to know that we’re working to make partnering with VA both easier and more effective.

In Omar Bradley’s day, a lot could be done on a handshake. Nowadays, things are more complicated. We have to be a lot more careful about information security, Federal Acquisition Regulations, and some other restraints.

But we’re committed to making the most of our partnerships through a number of process improvements: We’re working on clarifying current policies and streamlining procedures wherever possible. We’re evaluating and benchmarking existing partnerships. We’re also conducting a “gap analysis” to identify areas of greatest need and opportunities for collaboration.

We want to do more together in the future and not less, and we welcome your advice and assistance in making that happen.

Thanks again for all you do already. Thanks also to Council on Foundations and the Veterans Philanthropy Exchange for hosting this event. And, of course, special thanks to First Lady Michelle Obama, Dr. Jill Biden, and the staff of the White House Joining Forces initiative.

Your commitment to caring for those who have “borne the battle” and for their families and survivors is deeply touching and much appreciated.

Thank you.