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

Mental Health Summit
Washington, DC
April 21, 2016

Matt, thank you for that kind introduction, for your leadership, and for planning this truly important event. On behalf of America’s Veterans, my deep thanks to everyone who has made this second Brain Trust summit possible.

It’s truly inspiring to see such a diverse group of leaders and world-class innovators so committed to serving those who have “borne the battle” for all of us—our Nation’s Veterans. And they are why we’re transforming VA—the entire Department, not just incremental changes to parts of it.

We’re putting the needs, expectations, and interests of Veterans and their families first, putting Veterans in control of how, when, and where they wish to be served. Our five MyVA transformation strategies are:

  • First, to improve the Veteran experience;
  • Second, to improve the employee experience;
  • Third, to improve our internal support services;
  • Fourth, to establish a culture of continuous improvement;
  • And fifth, to expand strategic partnerships.

We’ve narrowed our near-term focus for 2016 to 12 Breakthrough Priorities to improve the Veteran experience, increase access to health care, improve community care, and much more.

And when we talk about how innovations in brain health improve the lives of those people who have done so much for all of us, that fifth transformational strategy—expanding strategic partnerships—involves all of you.

Elevating the conversation on mental health to the highest levels—as we’re doing here—means going beyond ideas and getting to solutions.

It means getting to the tangible outcomes that are truly transformational—not just for Veterans, but for all Americans.

Let me explain what I mean.

VA spends $1.8 billion annually on research, leading to major breakthroughs in medical science. Few know that VA researchers have received three Nobel Prizes and six prestigious Lasker awards.

VA researchers have pioneered electronic medical records and bar-code software to safely administer medicines; developed the implantable cardiac pacemaker; proved an aspirin a day reduces risk in heart patients; conducted the first successful liver transplants; created the nicotine patch; and demonstrated that patients with total paralysis can use their minds to control robotic arms.

VA is uniquely positioned to contribute to the care of Veterans with prosthetics, traumatic brain injury (TBI), PTSD, and other mental health conditions.

The work we do in these areas, as well as many others, produces results and life changing improvements in care for Veterans—and for all Americans and people around the world who suffer from these conditions.


And that’s why we’re excited to be leading this discussion on brain health.

The profound potential of your innovations and research can transform the experience of Veterans challenged with the invisible wounds of war.

So the goal of the dialogue we’re about to have among providers, researchers, specialists, and advocates is about collaborating, getting to the transformational outcomes I described earlier.

I want you to roll up your sleeves and team with Veterans, with VA clinicians, with the real subject matter experts, and others in your small groups. We need to turn innovation pitches into grand slams that VA and other partners can move forward.

At the end of the day, you’ll present your concepts to the panel—Under Secretary for Health Dr. David Shulkin, Chief Information Officer LaVerne Council, General Pete Chiarelli, and me.

We want to help you identify the resources and decision makers necessary to turn great ideas into solutions.

One way to do that is through our VA Innovators Network.

We have eight living laboratories at VA Medical Centers across the country where you can partner with frontline VA clinicians to further develop your Brain Health solutions.

If you are interested in learning more, make sure to speak with Andrea Ippolito. Andrea, please stand. If you have any questions about anything related to Innovations Network or future collaborations, please contact Andrea at 202-349-9857.

Here are some final thoughts.

After 33 years at Procter & Gamble, I count myself blessed to be working full-time for Veterans. Fulfilling President Lincoln’s charge to care for those who have “borne the battle” is a noble mission, and I’m proud to be a part of it.

But it’s not just my mission.

It’s not just VA’s mission.

Taking care of Veterans is a mission for the entire country.

Greater battlefield survival rates than we’ve ever witnessed, medical advances in brain injury and post-traumatic stress and technological advances in prosthetics have opened a world of opportunity for our Nation’s wounded, ill, and injured troops and Veterans.

These are opportunities we cannot miss. You’re going to help us make sure we don’t.And so is Vietnam Veteran and Medal of Honor recipient Paul “Buddy” Bucha. Let’s welcome him.