WASHINGTON, D.C. -- U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, Ranking Member on the Veterans' Affairs Committee, has announced the first of several proposed starting points for comprehensive changes to how our nation's veterans receive services and benefits.
Michaud, who shared many of his ideas with then-VA Secretary nominee Bob McDonald earlier this summer and put forward his thoughts in an NBC News op-ed, shared his preliminary plans the same day Secretary McDonald held a press conference to announce he intends to focus on changing VA culture and improving customer service for veterans in the system.
"I'm glad that Secretary McDonald is taking action that reflects the feedback he's received from veterans as the Department conducts their town halls across the country. Comprehensive changes to the way our nation supports its veterans requires input from everyone -- but the first-hand experiences of the men and women who deal with the Department day-in and day-out should be listened to particularly closely," said Michaud. "I've worked with the Secretary closely since he took the helm of the Department, and I look forward to continuing that partnership over the coming weeks and months as VA takes a hard look at what reforms are needed. We are going to get this right, and the end result will be significantly improved outcomes for our veterans."
Earlier this summer, Michaud offered a number of ideas for actions the Department could take to reform operations. Michaud is offering the ideas as a starting point for the national discussion on reforming veterans' support:
· 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.
"We have no shortage of goodwill towards our veterans, but we need to translate that goodwill into good policy," said Michaud. "This is a conversation everyone must be a part of. I'm looking forward to continuing to discuss reform with my fellow Members of Congress, the Secretary, and the administration. But most importantly, I am looking forward to continuing my work with veterans and their families. As we outline what real change looks like, they are the ones who will be best suited to tell us how we can make things better."