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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Secretary Denis R. McDonough

Our Most Sacred Obligation
February 9, 2021

As I begin my tenure and join you in caring for our nation’s Veterans, I want to take a moment to reflect on our shared mission and the road ahead. 

First and foremost, I want to thank you for devoting yourself to this noble work. The peace and freedom we enjoy as Americans have been secured by the sacrifices of generations of Veterans. Like you, I believe that it is a privilege and an honor for us to serve our Veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors as well as they’ve served us.  

Over my years of public service, I’ve been deeply impressed by your dedication and excellence as VA employees. You haven’t always received the thanks and appreciation you deserve. You are highly skilled professionals—many of you are Veterans yourself, Veterans serving Veterans. Our nation owes you a great debt of gratitude, and I am honored and humbled to be your partner. 

I’m also mindful that the COVID pandemic has been a heavy burden on you and your families. You’ve done double duty—taking care of your families and our Veterans. 

Your perseverance and strength in the face of historic demands are inspirational. I encourage you and your families to continue taking every precaution to stay safe and healthy. As we go forward, I pledge to you to communicate clearly about our plans and priorities as we confront this pandemic.  

At a moment when our country must come together, caring for our Veterans and their families is a mission that unites us all. President Biden calls it our countrys most sacred obligation: to prepare and equip our troops whom we send in harms way and to care for them and their families when they return. Here’s how we’ll fulfill our mission, together. 

Our highest priorities will be our three core responsibilities: providing all of our Veterans timely, world-class healthcare; ensuring that they and their families have access to the benefits they’ve earned; and honoring our Veterans with a final resting place that’s a lasting tribute to their service. Those are our core, non-negotiable duties. 

In addition, we’ll do everything in our power to help our Veterans get through this pandemic; help them build civilian lives through education and jobs worthy of their skills and service; ensure that VA welcomesall Veterans, including women, Veterans of color, and LGBTQ Veterans; work to eliminate Veterans’ homelessness and reduce suicide; and keep faith with their families and caregivers. 

Of course, we won’t be able to achieve any of this without you. You are integral to our success. Our success will be a product of your discipline and devotion. After all, it’s not technology or processes that deliver change—it’s people. It’s you. It’s all of us working together as one, united team. 

Our success as a team—our ability to deliver world-class care for our Veterans—also depends on how we treat each other. Our respect for our fellow VA employees and the Veterans we serve is critical to everything we do. Every single one of us is called upon to uphold our VA Values of Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect, and Excellence. These core I-CARE values define who we are, our culture, and how we care for Veterans and each other.  

This means that all VA staff, patients, their families, caregivers, survivors, visitors, and advocates must feel safe in a workplace free of harassment and discrimination. This commitment starts at the very top. I will not accept discrimination, harassment, or assault at any level or at any facility within VA. We will provide a safe, inclusive, equitable environment for both you and Veterans we serve. At the same time, in VHA and VBA, we will redouble our efforts to support and care for survivors of military sexual trauma among our Veterans, ensuring they feel and can count on the support of this great institution. 

I also know that we can achieve our mission only by embracing the incredible diversity that defines our Veteran population and all of America, leveraging everyone’s talents and passions. I commit to these principles and will make sure that my senior leadership team reflects and embeds them in everything that we do. 

In all our work, we are fortunate to have a strong ally and leader in the White House. On January 22nd, President Biden signed the Executive Order on Protecting the Federal Workforce. He recognizes that “career civil servants are the backbone of the Federal workforce, providing the expertise and experience necessary for the critical functioning of the Federal Government.” If you haven’t read that order, I encourage you to do so here.   

At the same time, President Biden also took the time to record a message to share with all of us. If you’ve not seen the message, please take a look, and in all cases please take note of the President recognizing you as “patriots, [who] could have done a lot of other things with your careers, but you chose public service. . . . I commend you for your professionalism, your honor, your integrity.”  

 Again, thank you for all you do every day on behalf of our Veterans and their families. I look forward to serving with you, to being your partner, and to meeting as many of you as I can in the days and years ahead. 

May God bless our troops, our Veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors. And may we as a nation always give them our very best.