Throughout the longest period of warfare in our history more than 2.5 million Americans have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. They and all American veterans deserve a VA that does its job the way our vets do theirs. As the Washington Post reports, the new VA Secretary is promising to do some major house cleaning to make his department more veteran-centered:
On the eve of Veterans Day, new Secretary of Veteran Affairs Robert McDonald said that “the largest restructuring in the department’s history is under way” and that at least 35 people are facing disciplinary action, with as many as 1,000 to follow. The action follows a nationwide scandal this summer over the thousands of veterans waiting for health care. …
McDonald also said he hopes to hire about 28,000 medical professionals to join the agency’s hospitals and clinics around the country, including about 2,500 mental health professionals. …
“Everything must be measured against on question: “Is this organization centered on the veteran.”
McDonald said his reforms and restructuring will focus on the driving issue behind the VA’s 90-day-plus wait times in some areas and the cover-up by employees, which was reported last year.
This reorganization sounds like hopeful news, but a healthy dose of skepticism is certainly understandable. In response to McDonald’s news, founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Paul Rieckhoff told Stars and Stripes:
…veterans have urged the department to improve its customer service for years and are glad to see the changes.
“The VA experience should be less like the broken bureaucracy it is currently, and more like an Apple store,” Rieckhoff said in a release.
But he said the group wants to see more specific details of the new plan and a timeline for when the changes will be in place.
“After years of failure, missed deadlines and disappointment at VA, our veterans will only celebrate when we see results,” Rieckhoff said.
We can and must do better by our veterans. A new law enacted this summer slashes the time it takes to fire executive officials down to just four weeks, the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014. As U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Jeff Miller (R-FL) said in response to McDonald’s remarks:
“New plans, initiatives and organizational structures are all well and good, but they will not produce their intended results until VA rids itself of the employees who have shaken veterans’ trust in the system. So far VA hasn’t done that – as evidenced by the fact that the majority of those who caused the VA scandal are still on the department payroll. I’m disappointed that instead of fully embracing the new firing authorities Congress and President Obama gave VA as part of the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, the department has shied away from them and even added more bureaucratic red tape such as additional appeals and interminable stints on paid leave. No one doubts that reforming VA is a tough job. But getting rid of failed executives should be the easiest part – not the most difficult.”
If Secretary McDonald needs some advice about how to get a seemingly "impossible" task done, perhaps he should ask some of the millions of men and women who have defended or are currently defending our country with their very lives. They somehow manage to get the impossible done every day–and we are ever grateful to them for it.