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Veterans Crisis Line Badge

Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Secretary Robert A. McDonald

PVA Able Awards
Washington, D.C.
October 6, 2015

Barbara [Starr], thank you for that kind introduction.

Congressmen Cicilline, Congressman Joyce, and Congressman Mullin; other distinguished guests from The White House, Department of Defense, VA, The United States Army, and The United States Navy: Thank you all for helping honor those who support our Servicemen and women.

Al Kovach — congratulations on your re-election as national president of PVA, now in its 69th year. I’ve known Al and his wife, Magaly, for quite some time. In fact, Al and I live in the same apartment building. While I think Al is a great guy, we have some serious differences which — during a certain time of the year — turn into fierce hostilities. So let me be the first to say: “Go Army, Beat Navy.”

Al, while we’ll never both root for the one excellent service academy — West Point — it’s great to partner in the interest of the Veterans we serve.

PVA is a great advocate of Veterans with spinal cord injuries and diseases – and, by extension, all Americans facing those challenges.

When Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines defend our freedom and liberty, the whole country benefits. When new technologies improve the lives of disabled Veterans, every American and family impacted by a disability or spinal injury benefits. When PVA helps advance research, education, and the civil rights of people with disabilities — we are their beneficiaries.

PVA’s mission is far-reaching.

That’s why tonight’s awards banquet is so important.

So Al, thank you again for your leadership of PVA, and for promoting awareness of critical injuries impacting Veterans.

And to all the businesses actively supporting, recruiting, and hiring Veterans: Thank you for helping the Nation fulfill its noble mission of caring for those who have “borne the battle,” and their survivors.

It’s not just a mission for VA. Taking care of Veterans is a mission for the entire country.

And it’s a mission that’s very personal to me.

My wife, Diane, and I come from families with strong traditions of military service. Diane’s father was shot down over Europe and survived harsh treatment as a P.O.W. My father served in the Army Air Corps after World War II. Diane’s uncle served in Vietnam, where he was exposed to Agent Orange. He still receives VA care. And today, my nephew has returned from flying missions over the Middle East and commands a fighter squadron in North Carolina.

I graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1975. My time at West Point, and as an Airborne Ranger with the 82d Airborne Division, instilled in me strong values and a lifelong sense of duty to country.

Nearly four decades later, that sense of duty to country and to those who serve remains. I take great pride in leading an organization that has the noblest mission in government. My commitment to all of you is to:

  • To always do what is right for all Veterans,
  • To work hard to understand their needs,
  • And change VA into the Veteran-centric enterprise our service members have earned and deserve.

Today’s warfighters have shouldered the burden of our defense for nearly 15 years. Like generations before them, they display extraordinary strength and resilience in the face of adversity to protect the freedoms we, as Americans, enjoy daily. They defend our nation and keep our country secure in Iraq, Afghanistan, and over 80 other countries around the world.

Despite injuries and disabilities as a result of service, our warfighters still live by the lessons they learned in uniform. They remain disciplined, dedicated, and trained Americans with a wealth of knowledge, skills, and experience. When these men and women return home after years of war and sacrifice, we have the opportunity to show our gratitude by serving them.

At VA, we’re reminded every day of the enormous contributions Veterans’ make to this great country.

Our mission is to stand by them as they move forward in life.

Our top priority is to improve the services and benefits VA delivers to Veterans and their families.

Our VA transformation is going to do just that.

We’re changing VA to make sure every Veteran thinks of us as MyVA — an organization committed to treating and serving Veterans the way they want and need to be served. We are applying proven customer-service principles from the public and private sectors in our many organizational reforms — working to better unify Department efforts on behalf of Veterans.

  • First, enhancing the Veteran experience, making it seamless, integrated, and responsive to the needs of Veterans;
  • Second, improving the employee experience, focusing on people and culture to better serve Veterans;
  • Third, upgrading our internal support services;
  • Fourth, establishing a culture of continuous improvement;
  • And fifth, strengthening strategic partnerships—building vital networks of collaborative relationships across federal, state, and local governments, and with both non-profit and for-profit organizations.

VA cannot do this alone.

Strategic partnerships generate incredible power and resources for initiatives aimed at providing Veterans with improved outlooks, opportunities, and outcomes. We need partnerships and alliances with community organizations and businesses like those being honored tonight— Booz Allen Hamilton, ManTech, Penske Truck Leasing, and Concrete Change. We need partnerships with PVA and The Jeffrey Carlton Charitable Foundation, and with people like Eleanor Smith, founder of Concrete Change.

And our Nation needs heroes like Captain Derek Herrera who had the courage to demonstrate new technologies that improve the quality of life for Veterans with disabilities. Pam, [Herrera] please tell Derek thank you.

Strategic partnerships build an integrated enterprise. It is a model that connects processes to both services and people and produces the best value for the people we serve.

The honorees and organizations represented here tonight are operational models for all of America, showing how collaboration and partnership – essential for business in the 21st century – make profound differences in the lives of Veterans.

The ABLE awards demonstrate how successful partnerships are rooted in a common vision, shared values, and devotion to Veterans’ and their families’ future.

Thank you all for your work on behalf of Veterans. An investment in Veterans is an investment in the enduring strength of the United States.

You all know that. Your good work is testament to your commitment to that principle. God bless you, and God bless this great Nation.