Sec. Bob McDonald visits Phoenix and Las Vegas VAMC

Sec. Bob McDonald

During preparation for my confirmation as secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA), I was repeatedly asked, “Why doesn’t VA just hand out vouchers allowing veterans to get care wherever they want?” For a department recovering from serious issues involving health care access and scheduling of appointments, that was a legitimate question.

After nine weeks at VA, travel to 31 VA facilities in 15 cities, discussions with hundreds of veterans and VA clinicians, meetings with 75 Members of Congress, two hearings before the Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs committees and dozens of meetings with Veterans Service Organizations and other stakeholders, I can answer that question.

Veterans need VA, and many more Americans benefit from VA.


Every day,  VA doctors see approximately 240,000 patients.

Almost 9 million veterans are enrolled to receive health care from VA — a unique, fully-integrated health care system, the largest in the nation. The VA stands atop a critical triad of support — three pillars that enable holistic health care for our patients: research, leading to advances in medical care; training that’s essential to build and maintain proficiency of care; and delivery of clinical care to help those in need.

VA’s accomplishments on all three pillars and contributions to the practice of medicine are as broad, historically significant and profound as they are generally unrecognized.

VA is affiliated with over 1,800 educational institutions providing powerful teaching and research opportunities. And our research initiatives, outcomes and honors are tremendous. Few understand that VA medical professionals:

•Pioneered and developed modern electronic medical records;

•Developed the implantable cardiac pacemaker;

•Conducted the first successful liver transplants;

•Created the nicotine patch to help smokers quit;

•Crafted artificial limbs that move naturally when stimulated by electrical brain impulses;

•Demonstrated that patients with total paralysis could control robotic arms using only their thoughts — a revolutionary system called “Braingate”;

•Identified genetic risk factors for schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s and Werner’s syndrome, among others;

•Applied bar-code software for administering medications to patients — the initiative of a VA nurse;

•Proved that one aspirin a day reduced by half the rate of death and nonfatal heart attacks in patients with unstable angina;

•Received three Nobel Prizes in medicine or physiology; seven prestigious Lasker Awards, presented to people who make major contributions to medical science or public service on behalf of medicine; and two of the eight 2014 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America medals.


VA researchers often work in tandem with educational institutions to conduct studies and scientific research that betters the lives of all Americans.

No single institution trains more doctors or nurses than VA. More than 70 percent of all U.S. doctors have received training at VA. Each year, VA trains, educates and provides practical experience for 62,000 medical students and residents, 23,000 nurses and 33,000 trainees in other health fields — people who go on to provide health care not just to veterans but to most Americans.

The 278,000 employees of the Veterans Health Administration work in a system spanning all 50 states and beyond, providing — from Maine to Manila — a high volume of quality, clinical care. Our 150 flagship VA Medical Centers are connected to 819 Community-Based Outpatient Clinics, 300 Vet Centers providing readjustment counseling, 135 Community Living Centers, 104 Residential Rehabilitation Treatment Centers, and to mobile medical clinics, mobile Vet Centers and telehealth programs providing care to the most remote veterans.

That network of facilities allows VA to deliver care to veterans from the greatest generation of World War II to the latest generation from Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2013, VA provided over 90 million episodes of care; that’s an average of over 240,000 each day. And since 2004, the American Customer Satisfaction Index survey has consistently shown that veterans receiving inpatient and outpatient care from VA hospitals and clinics give a higher customer satisfaction score, on average, than patients at private sector hospitals.

Finally, VA is uniquely positioned to contribute to the care of veterans with traumatic brain injury (TBI), prosthetics, PTSD and other mental health conditions, and the treatment of chronic diseases such as diabetes and hepatitis. The work we do in these areas, as well as many others, produces results and life changing improvements in care for veterans — and for all Americans and people around the world who suffer from these conditions.

Fixing access to VA care is important; we have a plan to do that and are dedicated to implementing it. That process will take time — but it must be done, and we will be successful. Those who fully understand the value of the department in research, training, and clinical care understand that veterans and all Americans need and deserve their VA to continue providing exceptional care to those we serve.

Robert A. McDonald is secretary of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining VA, Secretary McDonald was Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer of The Procter & Gamble Company (P&G). During his tenure, P&G was widely recognized for its leader development prowess. An Army veteran, Mr. McDonald served with the 82nd Airborne Division; completed Jungle, Arctic, and Desert Warfare training; and earned the Ranger tab, the Expert Infantryman Badge, and Senior Parachutist wings.

Published today in the Baltimore Sun:

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Published on Oct. 24, 2014

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  1. Wayne Bartunek October 29, 2014 at 11:21 pm

    I have been receiving care with the VA almost 10 years and I can not say one thing bad about them. I live in central Minnesota and have a VA clinic here, I have always been treated with the utmost respect and care here, and if I need specialty care I go to St. Cloud, Minnesota, And they are equally as good , They are thorough, and very concerned about my well being. I really can not say enough good things about the VA health care system here in Minnesota!!!

    • Danny November 3, 2014 at 1:00 pm

      hey wayne,I was a patient at the Minneapolis VA and I worked there for a few years. If the VA administration wanted a model for healthcare they should look at the Minneapolis VA! you sir, in my opinion are at the best facility anyone could want to be at. I have been treated at other VA facilities and the Minneapolis VA is the one reason that could ever make me want to move back to Minnesota.

  2. Buck Farak October 29, 2014 at 5:39 pm

    While I have gotten great care at the VA hospital. I can hardly get my local clinic to even call me back after a week of messages. Its very difficult to get any attention whatsoever out of them. They seem to still be the old VA and haven’t heard that things are supposed to change. You’d think a few 6 figure salaries FINALLY getting fired might get someone’s attention, but I guess not.

  3. Chris Furney October 28, 2014 at 10:20 pm

    I think we need to establish a “holistic treatment plan” in my case, especially. We’re not sure what we’re trying to accomplish- how can we “Accomplish The Mission”? Two months wait time for a half hour max appointment at Salem VA isn’t going to work for a 55 year old open heart surgery, ortho, and PTSD guy either. I agree that, especially for something big, that we Disabled Vets need the VA as much or more than ever. But I spend about 75 dollars and most of a day getting back and forth to Salem- God Forbid Portland, but at least they pay travel expenses if it’s that far. An absolute approach to a problem is seldom optimal. Surely an award winning IT system could develop a sliding scale at which point things are cheaper.

  4. Barry jardine October 28, 2014 at 9:45 pm

    i am currently in the VA hospital at west Haven Ct. Blind rehab. I can’t do anything before I came here and now I am learn to travel by myself cook and clean. I am no longer a burden on my family. I thank you and the eastern blind center what a great staff they have. A job well done

  5. ron belew October 28, 2014 at 9:15 pm

    I’ve been receiving care from my local VA hospital for several years and I have nothing but good things to say about it. My health has always been good so I required less care to begin with, but the treatment I have received has been excellent. I particularly like the use the VA makes of it’s facilities to train the next generation of healthcare providers, these kids are a lot of fun to tease…

    There are always going to be complaints; any Vet can tell you stories about whiners and (edited) they served with- turns out there’s a uniform to fit almost anyone.

  6. Ray Marcom October 28, 2014 at 8:37 pm

    There are many places within the U.S. where veterans must travel some distance to receive care at a VA facility. These veterans, which includes myself and my father, who suffer chronic pain should be able to be treated by a local physician, rehad and pain management specialists without having to make the painful journey to a VA facility.

  7. Cheryl October 28, 2014 at 6:49 pm

    How convenient they don’t mention anything about how they continue to push drugs on people when they don’t want them. They still treat people like they are still in the military expecting them to do whatever they are told, that is not proper medical care. Proper patient centered care is when the patient has autonomy and has a say in their treatment. Until they fix this problem, they will continue to languish in incompetence,maleficence and ignorance of their Veteran and veteran family populations.

    • Danny October 29, 2014 at 11:51 am

      Cheryl, we veterans have 1 major advantage over civilians going to the hospital – this is OUR hospital – Veteran’s Administration. we have an active role in our own health care. just yesterday I told my mental health provider that I will not take a certain medication because the one side effect listed is the possibility of fatal pancreatitis! we are no longer in the military, we are veterans, and we have a choice in our health care! it is up to us to exercise our freedom of choice.

  8. Joseph Campana Sr October 28, 2014 at 6:31 pm

    I am a Vietnam era veteran, and returned for medical treatment after not going to the VA for 43 years.
    I first underwent primary care at our local VA Clinic, (Fonda NY), great doctor, great care.
    I subsequently was referred to Physical therapy in the Stratton VA, in Albany NY.
    Again great care, great physical therapist’s.
    I subsequently became a DAV, Volunteer Driver transporting Veteran’s with various problems to the hospital.
    Here is what I noticed and heard from these Veteran’s.
    1. Poor communications from various sections, the one that comes to mind is an 87 year old Vet, who traveled for an hour for surgery. Upon arrival reporting for surgery he was informed that the surgery could not be performed as he needed to have a Stress test, no prior notification was given to him according to him.
    2. I hear many times that the employees of the VA have not had a general raise in a long time. Unhappy employees leads to disinterest in the needed job performance. Although I don’t see where is really affects the veterans.
    3. The biggest complaint I hear is that if they have an appointment at the eye clinic an 8 am appointment seems to be backed up to anywhere from 1 to 3 hours later. This needs to be fixed as probably 3 out of 5 persons I transport during the month go to the eye clinic.
    4. There seems to be a thought that administration people at the hospital are receiving Bonuses, if true they feel that no bonuses should be even thought of when there are problems in the VA, is this country wide they wonder.
    5. I hear particularly that getting prescriptions are really hard, and have heard from many that sometimes their doctor will prescribe a particular amount of medication and the pharmacy cuts down the amount overriding the physician, or makes them travel
    weekly to to get their next amount of medication, I think this may be controlled substances, and I can understand the reasoning.
    I would like to see Secretary McDonald visit the VA Hospital at Albany NY, named after one great congressman, Mr. Sam Stratton, and do what he did, he talked to the veterans directly, without any management just Security for his protection.
    I believe that we absolutely need the VA, Hospital’s and the clinics located in various counties, we just need to have the problems fixed that are occurring as the VA has had to expand over the past years and is now treating so many more Vets.
    Thanks for listening and the best of luck it is a tremendous undertaking.

  9. Ed October 28, 2014 at 6:14 pm

    I don’t think Govt. is about to take VA away from you, or us Vets. Like any politician, you again failed to answer the question yet again. We are not talking about the fine care we all receive with the VA; we are instead speaking of compliance with Federal Law, in that it is beyond the date VA was ordered to issue cards. My understanding is that you have not yet even chosen a vendor. You don’t need one, as all you need do is modify the the ID we already have, and reissue to those of us who live more than 40 miles from their VA Facility.Please quit lauding praise and get with the program, Mr. Secretary.

    • Danny November 3, 2014 at 1:03 pm

      they say the truth hurts….OUCH!!!!!

  10. James Gawne October 28, 2014 at 6:12 pm

    I have used the VA health care system for 13 years, and I have little to complain about, and much to praise. I work at a not-for-profit hospital and I see how patient load, hospital census and funding all affect staffing. The fact is that the VA is able to provide care to those of us with multiple service connected disabilities in a (usually) timely manner, and often times with less waiting time than comparable care in the civilian medical world. My only suggestion to the Secretary would be that VA open urgent care centers in the Ambulatory Care Clinics. Many ailments require urgent, but not emergency, care.

  11. Lewis Carroll October 28, 2014 at 5:32 pm

    The VA saved my life and they have always been great. I would bevpissed if I had to go find new doctors. Its a long drive but the great care I get can’t be beat.

  12. christopher farrell October 28, 2014 at 5:27 pm

    why does the va hate veterans? The generl concensus of vets i know is take a number and have a seat. While so many times confidentiality is out the window…,to complain i’m advised to go somewhere else.

  13. LTD October 28, 2014 at 4:15 pm

    The VA has led the charge in the Health Community in so many ways.. all even though a Government entity with challenges of so many policies, shortage of staffing sometimes and not a very great competition for salary amongst Physicians.. I am proud to be a patient and an employee there.

  14. Joseph Gadberry October 28, 2014 at 4:03 pm

    B.S. babble. 4 months to get an MRI with a lump on my knee that’s not going away.

  15. patrick jahnke October 26, 2014 at 11:44 pm

    U know u can stay u had so many veterans sign up see a doc. But how long will it take 2 nd appt or care? Take those narcotics drugs away make them suffer even more . why. U say this and that but. When they cc those new doctor they do not know anything what to do , or were send them for proper care . pass the buck. 8 months with burn nerve pain a doctor refused to cc me any more until I know how to turn off burn nerve pain. It 24/7 pain .

  16. Danny October 25, 2014 at 10:43 pm

    I am very thankful to finally see a blog comment from secretary mcdonald! The VA medical system is not only needed by the veterans but is also something we have earned.whether they served in peacetime or during a conflict or during a declared war whether they served stateside or overseas we have all served our country!as a Native American veteran I feel it was my duty and my honor to serve my country yet I don’t feel my country owes me anything other than to keep the promises they have McDonald, one promise you have made to the veterans is transparency within your domain, if you will. Sir, I have looked (almost) everywhere for a way to contact you regarding the town hall meetings that were held; WHAT A JOKE! I would very much like to speak to someone regarding the personnel shortage at the Prescott Arizona VA and the impact it is having on the veterans& the employees that truly care and are trying to help the veterans there. I know you have a way of getting my email please feel free to do so and contact me.

    • Danny October 25, 2014 at 11:40 pm

      Mr. McDonald, after reading my own comment, I thought “Man, What a jerk. ” Sir, I truly apologize to you. I’ve had a rough 3 months & took it out on you. I apologize & you have my word, I will never disrespect you again.

  17. April L. Day October 25, 2014 at 5:40 am

    I am on two controlled medications. Every month they come late. They only give a 28 day supply so every month they get confused and my meds get here late. Otherwise the VA is awesome!! I have been using them for several years now and and have been very satisfied and well taken care of! My only issue is with receiving my medications when I need my refills done. There used to be a waiting list in Myrtle Beach. I was told I was on a waiting list. Several years later, they told me there was no such list so I don’t know how I feel through the cracks. I am 100% permanently and totally disabled so I had to use my Medicare benefits for many years. Thank you for having the VA available for us veterans!

  18. Tim Connelly October 25, 2014 at 12:22 am

    I wish Chairman Bob would take the time to talk to a veteran like myself who has used VA Medical Care for over 25 years and has seen the care go down hill but he and others in power never talk to the “little guy.” And the system continues in it dysfunction. I realize the VA has done wonderful things but of late it has been a disaster. Money is always at the root of problems in this society. There never is enough or it isn’t used in the right ways. Why should millions of dollars be spent on commemorating the VIetnam war and I can’t even see a specialist at the VAMC when I need too. I will probably be dead before any change is implemented at the VA. Chairman Bob: give me a call.

    • perryhartman October 28, 2014 at 6:43 pm

      i know the feeling you’r dealing with, i have been seeing the va since april 19th 2009, 15 different drs. 3 different specialist, 5 different ptsd councelors, any not 2 answers are the same from everyone listed, a loosing battle for a viet-nam vet with 17% breathing capacity, trying to get an advocate for 6 months, but get ignored? wth.

  19. Milan B. Lemmon October 24, 2014 at 11:34 pm

    Nothing like patting yourself on the back. Huh! VA.

  20. James P. Hawke October 24, 2014 at 9:00 pm

    I appreciate the medical attention I receive at the Reno Nevada Veteran’s Hospital. Nothing too fancy, just good doctors, technicians and care givers.

    Thank you for the continued progress!

    • Danny October 27, 2014 at 9:10 pm

      I too, appreciate the good care I receive at the VA. In other comments I have given them credit for helping save my life from cancer. However during the last 3 months I have been explaining to the mental health department that I have not been able to sleep at night without waking up three or four or five times a night–every night. Even though I have been diagnosed with PTSD, my mental health provider continues to treat me for bipolar disorder. I cannot get them to understand that although the nightmares have lessened since I got my service dog, bipolar disorder has not replaced PTSD! PTSD is an incurable disease! it can get better and it has gotten better, but will never go away. Why can VA not help me sleep at night?

      • Barbara October 28, 2014 at 4:41 pm

        Read this article – it may help when seeing mental health or your doc next time.

        • Danny November 3, 2014 at 12:54 pm

          Barbara, I read the article and passed it on to my mental health provider. She said she would read it as well. I actually believe she did as I got some medications in the mail after a trip to California that for once we’re not related to bipolar disorder instead they work for PTSD nightmares.thank you for taking the time and interest to reply.

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