Remarks by Secretary Robert A. McDonald - Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs
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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Secretary Robert A. McDonald

Veterans Economic Communities Initiative Launch
Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas
May 18, 2015

Mayor Mike Rawlings—thanks for welcoming us to your beautiful twin-cities.

Sergeant White, thanks for that kind introduction. It’s my honor to be here with you today. Thank you for your service, for your courage, and for your commitment to Veterans. You’re an inspiration to us all, for many reasons.

Fast forward with for me for a moment—imagine your life’s end. You’re surrounded by people you love, and who love you. One of them asks, “Did you accomplish your purpose in life?”

It would be a sad moment if your response was, “Well, I don’t know. I never decided what my purpose would be.”

Purpose is first and most important.

Faced with the stark reality of the direst situation, a very wise young man found his purpose. He thought, “. . . it's just a matter of time before I am dead. . . . I'm going to try to help somebody while I can.”

I suspect most of us have contemplated that first proposition at least once —Someday, I’m going to die. But how many draw that same conclusion? I’m going to help others?

Helping others. Caring for others. It’s the heart of the mission President Abraham Lincoln gave all us as the bloody Civil War was coming to a close—care for those “who have borne the battle” and their families.

It’s VA’s noble mission. And I’m honored to be a part of it.

Our country’s emerging from the longest war in its history. And after doing the heavy lifting for nearly 15 years, a quarter-million Veterans will be returning to our communities this year. They and their families have made immense sacrifices.

Sergeant Kyle White is just one of innumerable examples.

They’ve defended our freedom. They’ve preserved our opportunities to prosper. So they deserve and appreciate our heartfelt thanks. But we can do so much more to show our gratitude—in tangible ways.

It’s a sacred commitment. Fulfilling that commitment is why we’re here today. It’s why people are going to be having this same discussion in 24 other cities across the United States in the next few days.

How do we fulfill that commitment—serve those who’ve served so heroically? Let me give you an example.

At the beginning of 2010, there were about 75,000 homeless Veterans across the United States. By the end of 2010, the number had dropped by 12 percent. End of 2011, another 7 percent. 8 percent in 2012. 14 percent in 2013.

Here in Dallas-Fort Worth, a 45 percent drop. Altogether across the country, a 33 percent decline in homeless Veterans.

Hard work. Great progress. More to do.

Last spring, VA launched our 25 Cities Initiative to help end Veteran homelessness.

We’ve partnered with communities with the highest concentrations of homeless Veterans to intensify and integrate local efforts.

Last summer First Lady Michelle Obama announced the Mayors Challenge to End Veterans Homelessness. Mike—thank you for joining the First Lady.

Michelle Obama reminded us, “Tens of thousands of Veterans who risked their lives for our country are sleeping in their cars, or in a shelter, or next to a subway vent. We should be horrified,” she said, “because that’s not who we are as Americans.”

It’s not who we are.

For four years now, we’ve been working together, hard, on behalf of Veterans to prove that. Last December, New Orleans became the first major city to meet the challenge and end veteran homelessness.

We expect Fort Worth will hit zero homeless Veterans very soon. Houston, Phoenix, and Salt Lake City have reached major milestones—striving to the goal of ending Veteran homelessness by the end of 2015. Dallas is on its way.

But we couldn’t do it—none of us—without grass-roots efforts and determined partnerships, not without compassionate leaders like Mayor Rawlings and Mayor Betsy Price. We couldn’t do it without people like David Storms of HUD; Cindy Crain and Paula Mauroney of Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance; nonprofit and charitable organizations like Family Endeavors, The Urban League of Greater Dallas, the Catholic Charities Diocese of Fort Worth, Homeless Veterans Services of Dallas, The Salvation Army, Veterans Matters, and many more.

It’s exciting to say, without exaggeration, that there are simply too many partners to name them all here.

On behalf of everyone at VA and our Nation’s Veterans—thanks to all those great people. It takes fierce determination and deep devotion. And it takes an unyielding commitment to helping others.

This summer, VA is renewing our commitment to America’s Veterans. We’re working on a number of fronts to improve Veteran outcomes and to expand and catalyze collaboration in communities where Veterans live. State to state, community to community—there are many ways to serve Veterans, together.

To begin, we’re engaged in an historic, department-wide transformation that’s changing VA’s culture. It’s called MyVA. The organizing principle is simple—make Veterans the center of everything we do. Veteran-centric.

Our strategy focuses on five objectives that reorient us on Veterans’ outcomes: improving the Veteran’s experience, improving the employee experience, achieving support service excellence, establishing a culture of continuous performance improvement, and enhancing our strategic partnerships.

Two of those objectives—Improving Veterans Experience and Enhancing Strategic Partnerships—are fundamental to our purpose today. We know we can’t succeed without vibrant, productive, engaged community partnerships.

One way we’re getting there is through MyVA Communities. MyVA Communities bring together local Veterans service providers, advocates, and others to improve outcomes for Veterans and their families.

These are community driven networks. They’re chaired by local leaders. They promote opportunities for collaboration. They give Veterans and families a proactive forum to address issues. And they aim to resolve issues and help all of us better meet Veterans’ needs.

MyVA Communities—that concept was inspired by some innovative people in San Diego who decided to make a difference by helping others. The first of the MyVA communities—MyVA Connecticut—will launch this month. And VA field leaders will help the movement expand through the summer—we’re ready to support efforts in all 50 states.

That’s another grass-roots partnership.

In 2013, there were about 722,000 unemployed Veterans in the labor force. In 2014, that number dropped to about 573,000. Last month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported about 507,000 unemployed Veterans across the United States. Here in Texas, over that same period, the number of unemployed Veterans dropped from 49,000 to 38,000.

So, we’re heading in the right direction. But we can do more.

President Obama challenged VA last August to help Veterans and families at the local level, help them integrate with communities. He challenged us to help Veterans find meaningful jobs that can lead to economic success.

We accepted that challenge. And I’m excited to be here in Dallas-Fort Worth to launch our Veterans Economic Communities Initiative—VECI, for short.

We’re launching the Veterans Economic Communities Initiative in 50 cities where Veterans and their families are most challenged. We’re kicking off 25 this summer.

In these 25 focus cities, we want to help increase opportunities for education and employment for Veterans and their families. And we’ll do that through partnership, through community-level networks of support, through collaboration and innovation.

Regional organizations are already stepping up—saying, “We want our community’s Veterans to thrive”: Southwest Airlines, NPower, Energy Future Holdings, and Tarrant County College.

National organizations are leveraging their scope and scale with powerful support to Veterans across the country: LinkedIn, and Coursera, Hilton Worldwide, The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors –TAPS, and the Bob Woodruff Foundation.

To all of those and all the others, again—thank you.

VA’s deploying VECI Economic Liaisons who can help coordinate these efforts in a number of ways.

They’re a resource for local governments, employers, educational institutions, and non-profits—so they can begin to build those integrated networks of support.

They’re a resource for local businesses—VA liaisons can facilitate Veteran hiring processes, connect employers to web-tools like the Veteran Employment Center, and help shape Veteran hiring commitments from community champions.

They’re a resource for policy experts looking for ways to overcome challenges that are unique to Veterans and their families.

And they’ll help Veterans and schools leverage education benefits in the most productive ways possible—so Veterans get the right skills for career success in Dallas-Fort Worth.

Employment summits and career fairs will give Veterans and families more opportunities to find jobs. As important, they’ll give employers more opportunities to find Veterans.

Through the Veterans Economic Communities Initiative, we have a great opportunity to help Veterans strengthen businesses and communities as employees, as entrepreneurs, as students, and as friends, neighbors, and community leaders.

And hiring Veterans—welcoming them and their families into your community—isn’t just good business. It’s good for America.

My West Point classmate and good friend for 40 years, Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson, asks a few simple questions about hiring Veterans: “Can we imagine any situation where we don’t need more people who put service before self, who can bridge differences to accomplish great things, who will persevere even in the face of daunting obstacles, and who we can trust implicitly to choose a harder right rather than an easier wrong?”

I know business. I can’t imagine any.

With our Veterans Economic Communities Initiative and other efforts, we’re making this summer a Summer of Service for Veterans, and you’ll hear more about our Summer of Service in the days ahead.

Ours is the privilege to serve those who’ve served us for so long.

I’m really proud to launch the Veterans Economic Communities Initiative this afternoon because, together, we can give all Veterans the opportunity to achieve the same American dream they so honorably defended.

I’m Secretary Bob McDonald. Thank you for joining us.