WASHINGTON, D.C. – Rep. Mike Michaud (D-ME), Ranking Member on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, met this morning with Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald to discuss reforms to the Department that will improve the delivery of services and benefits to veterans and their families. Michaud released the following statement after today’s meeting:
“Secretary McDonald is moving forward with examining a number of the reforms which I have suggested and discussed with him in the past. These are concrete reforms I believe will help change the culture within the Department and, ultimately, make it much easier for veterans to access the benefits and services they have earned.
“I’m pleased that Secretary McDonald has shown a commitment not just to undertaking these necessary reforms, but to doing so in a transparent process that truly reflects feedback from a number of stakeholders – in particular, veterans and their families. I will remain in close consultation with the Secretary as we continue rolling out principles for reform, and I look forward to working with him in the coming weeks and months.”
Michaud has previously put forward a series of principles to serve as a starting point for a national discussion on reforming veterans’ support. Michaud initially offered these principles in an op-ed to NBC News this summer, and expanded on them earlier this week. Michaud’s tenets for reform include:
- National Veterans Strategy: We need a National Veterans Strategy to define how our nation will deliver what it owes its veterans – appreciation for choosing service and recognition of the sacrifices made on behalf of the nation; a warm hand-off from military service to civilian life; the opportunity to maximize the benefits of service; the means to minimize the disadvantages of service, and a flexible, easy-to-access safety net that helps veterans when they need it.
- Changing VA Culture and Improving Customer Service: VA needs to identify, communicate and institutionalize practices that provide and enhance veterans’ feelings that the VA – from individual employees, through leadership, to the overall institution – cares about his or her individual well-being, and cares about providing them with quality, timely benefits and services.
- Improving the Business of VA through Partnerships: We need to look at which VA business practices are working and which are not. There is a vast array of non-federal government entities that have a role to play in meeting veterans’ needs. In some cases, these organizations can do a better job than VA in providing support to veterans. VA should be the facilitator who brings these groups together, the leader who provides the national strategy to guide these groups, and the partner who sets and ensures the highest standards of customer service.
- Improving the Business of VA Through Restructuring: The stovepipes of health care, benefits and memorial services need to be taken down and VA needs to transform into a more aligned, integrated and interdependent system that works together to support veterans when, where and how they need it. One way to do this is to realign VA with a single, limited number of regions (perhaps the ten used by the Social Security Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services – two organizations that are inextricably linked with VA). Within each region VA should appoint a “regional chief” who is responsive to veterans, and reports to the Secretary, on all things VA-related within his or her region.
- Accountability and Transparency: VA collects a wealth of data on veterans, services, benefits, processes and outcomes. They need to integrate and translate this data into information and knowledge that it uses to improve current veterans support and plan for future improvements. VA also needs to share the data, information and knowledge with others to demonstrate how it is meeting standards for veterans’ benefits and services, and how it is delivering a return to the veteran on the nation’s investment. When the analysis shows failures in these areas, VA needs to hold those leaders responsible in a definitive way that results in a change in the trend.
Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL) also attended today’s meeting, as did Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-NC).