Remarks by Secretary Denis R. McDonough - Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs
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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Secretary Denis R. McDonough

Elizabeth Dole Foundation Virtual Event A Celebration of Service:
Welcoming Secretary McDonough & Meg Kabat
Washington, DC (Virtual)
February 24, 2021


Steve [Schwab, CEO, Elizabeth Dole Foundation], thanks for that generous introduction. More importantly, thanks for your exceptional leadership of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation.

Senator Dole, because of you and your leadership, caregivers have the attention they deserve. Thanks for the decades you’ve spent serving tirelessly in so many important roles to make our country a better place for all Americans. I look forward to working with you and the foundation.

And, please, also know that you and Senator Bob are in my thoughts and prayers. Senator Bob Dole’s leadership and patriotism over a lifetime of service to our country has revealed an iconic patriot in the very finest sense of the word. He is a role model for us all. 

Bonnie Carroll, as President and Founder of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, TAPS, you have provided comfort, care, and resources to so many families. Thank you for your vision and generosity.

And to all the caregivers and survivors on this call, thank you for what you do each day. No one more completely fulfills President Lincoln’s charge to care for those who’ve “borne the battle” than you. It’s our honor and duty at VA to support you as we work to serve Veterans as well as they have served this nation.

President Biden gave me a clear mission—to be a fierce, staunch advocate for Veterans and their families. A key priority of the President’s guidance to me is to keep faith with Veterans’ families and caregivers. Now, as most of you know, VA has made great strides in supporting caregivers.

We have:

  • A Caregiver Support Program that offers a full menu of services for those caring for Veterans.
  • Many home, community-based, and telehealth services that provide direct and specialized care to Veterans so they and their caregivers don’t need to leave home.
  • An exceptional Veterans’ Family, Caregiver, and Survivor Federal Advisory Committee chaired by Senator Dole—a world-class team representing our caregivers.

And just a few weeks ago, VA health care facilities began offering COVID-19 testing and vaccinations to designated family caregivers of Veterans participating in the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers, because one of the most important things we can do for caregivers is to help them take care of themselves. 

We know these programs can make a tangible difference in the lives of caregivers, like you make tangible differences in the lives of the Veterans you care for. And our role is to make tangible differences in your lives.

Let me tell you about a lady named Jean King. Jean’s husband of 40 years is Jack, a Vietnam Veteran. After raising five children and approaching the end of their own careers, Jack was diagnosed with Stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Jean became Jack’s caregiver, leaving her own medical career, starting from square one. As a caregiver, she felt lost—she felt, as she described it, like a “a gerbil running in a wheel ending up back in the same place.”

Then, Jean learned about what VA has to offer not only Veterans, but also caregivers. Thanks to the support of VA people like Caregiver Support Program social worker Tiffany Pundai, Jean grew into an expert caregiver for Jack. Jean said, “We are just so grateful for VA. Without them, I don’t know what we would have done.” She calls people like Tiffany “angels on earth.”

I share that sentiment. It’s true of so many VA employees, doctors, nurses, social workers, and more. That’s the kind of expert, compassionate support we owe caregivers, and Veterans. And it’s the kind of positive experiences we owe Veteran caregivers across America.

President Biden and I want to improve and expand VA support to better meet caregivers’ needs. It is a priority for me. And it’s a priority for President Biden. That’s why he called on a very special person to serve as my Senior Advisor for Families, Caregivers, and Survivors.

I’m talking about Meg Kabat. President Biden leveraged Meg’s unique skill set:

  • Her work as a licensed clinical social worker in public and private organizations,
  • Her service as VA’s National Director of our Caregiver Support Program,
  • Her wide-ranging knowledge of this department and her caring, compassionate nature led President Biden to select her to help VA by leading a tremendously successful transition over the past few months.

Now all of us will be better served by Meg’s breadth of knowledge and selfless service.

Meg, there’s no one better suited for this important job. I’ll depend on your wise counsel, and I look forward to moving ahead on the caregiver opportunities that you will be discussing today.

We’re ready and willing to work with others: federal departments and agencies, Veterans service organizations, the National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs—NASDVA, and other state and local organizations, both public and private, who have the best interests of Veterans, caregivers, and their families at heart. And that includes the incredible folks at the Elizabeth Dole Foundation.

We’ll continue working together to improve and build on the momentum we’ve established through the foundation’s Campaign for Inclusive Care, seeking to fully integrate families and caregivers into the comprehensive care plans of the Veterans they love, to fully implement MISSION Act expansion to all generations of Veterans, and to explore how we can better understand the impact of caregiving on Veterans’ children and how we might better serve them.

The Dole Foundation’s Hidden Helpers Children’s Coalition is focusing on just that. I understand you’ll be releasing the results of your first-ever research this summer, and I look forward to continued collaboration on this important issue after the release of your report.

Everyone—your devotion and commitment to caregivers brought us together today. I ask you to help VA better understand, from the caregiver perspective, all the physical, psychological, financial, and social well-being challenges caregivers face so we can better serve them in the coming years.

Thanks, again, for joining us.

God bless our most vulnerable Veterans, and those who care for them. And may we work together to provide them all with the care and resources they have earned.

Thank you.