The “Road to Veterans Day” initiative, announced on Sept. 8 by Secretary Bob McDonald, has resulted in significant progress for Veterans over the past three months. During that time, VA has taken deliberate actions to improve service delivery for Veterans, rebuild trust, increase accountability and transparency and put the department on the path to long-term excellence and reform.

Sec. Bob McDonald visits Phoenix and Las Vegas VAMC“Over the past three months, we’ve been taking a hard look at ourselves, listening to Veterans, employees, Veterans organizations, unions, members of Congress, and our other partners. Their insights are shaping our work to chart the path for the future,” said McDonald, who has traveled extensively during his first few months in office, visiting 41 VA facilities in 21 cities while also making 11 recruiting visits to medical schools.   “While more work remains, our dedicated employees are making progress to better serve Veterans.”

To improve service delivery, VA has prioritized efforts to accelerate Veterans off of wait lists and into clinics through the Accelerated Care Initiative begun by Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson this summer.  Through this initiative, VA medical centers have increased access to care inside and outside of VA, added more clinic hours and work days, deployed mobile medical units, and shared their best practices from VA’s high-performing facilities throughout the organization.  Significant improvements have resulted nationally:

  • Completed 1.2 million more appointments in the past four months than in the same period last year. In total, VA medical centers have completed over 19 million Veteran appointments from June to Oct. 1, 2014.
  • Reducing the national new patient primary care wait time by 18 percent.
  • Completing 98 percent of appointments within 30 days of the Veterans’ preferred date, or the date determined to be medically necessary by a physician.
  • Authorizing 1.1 million non-VA care authorizations, a 46.6 percent increase over the same period last year.

I CARE logo final

Over the past three months, VA has focused on identifying the scope of the problems facing the department and taking significant actions to correct deficiencies, to include holding employees accountable when there is evidence of inappropriate behavior.  On his second day at VA, Secretary McDonald addressed all employees via video teleconference, where he directed each employee to reaffirm the mission and core values of the department.  All senior leaders were responsible for ensuring this was carried out in all facilities across the country, and this re-affirmation has been confirmed.  Moving forward, this will happen each year on the anniversary of VA becoming a cabinet-level agency, and a new award program has been initiated to highlight employees who truly embody VA’s ICARE values – Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect, and Excellence.  The first nominations for this new incentive program will be accepted in January 2015.

Since June 2014, VA has proposed disciplinary action against more than 40 employees nationwide related to data manipulation or patient care.  VA is also working diligently to cooperate with the over 100 investigations currently being undertaken by the VA Inspector General, the Justice Department and the Office of Special Counsel (OSC).

On October 3rd, OSC certified VA under their Whistleblower Protection Certification Program after VA worked to achieve compliance and protect employees who identify or report problems from unlawful retaliation. VA also worked closely with OSC to successfully resolve whistleblower retaliation complaints filed by three individuals from the VA Phoenix Health Care System.  The Department’s transparency is critical in rebuilding the public’s trust.  VA has posted data online on a regular basis since the beginning of June showing the number of appointments on waiting lists and the average wait times at each medical center across the country.

Additionally, each medical center and benefits office has conducted a town hall with Veterans and the public to collect feedback. These town halls will continue at each facility every three months.

The “Road to Veterans Day” has demonstrated the need for significant reforms to meet the expectations of Veterans well past Veterans Day. VA is reviewing options to reorganize the department for success, guided by ideas and initiatives from Veterans, employees, and all of our stakeholders. This reorganization will be known as “MyVA” and is designed to provide Veterans with a seamless, integrated, and responsive customer service experience—whether they arrive at VA digitally, by phone or in person.

Road artAnother component of the “Road to Veterans Day” initiative that will continue past Veterans Day is the Veterans Health Administration’s “Blueprint for Excellence,” which lays out strategies for transformation to improve the performance of VA health care now —making it more Veteran-centric by putting Veterans in control of their VA experience.

Long-term reform of VA also means making sure VA has the medical professionals we need to best care for our patients, which is why Secretary McDonald launched a national recruiting effort in August, visiting medical schools in an effort to bring the best and brightest to work at VA. On Sept. 17, VA announced an increase in the salary pay scale for VA doctors and dentists to aid in recruiting and retention.

As part of the “Road to Veterans Day,” Secretary McDonald has reaffirmed VA’s homelessness program and the Veterans Benefits Administration’s claims transformation strategy.   VA remains committed to working with its federal, state and local partners to end homelessness among Veterans, which has been reduced by 33 percent since 2010. With the backlog of disability claims reduced by 60 percent since its peak in March of 2013, VA is also on track to eliminate the backlog in 2015 and will continue to expand online claim-submission capability in all programs.

“VA exists to serve our nation’s Veterans and their families. I’m convinced that our comprehensive reforms will enable us to better meet the needs of our Veterans because we will be looking at everything we do through their eyes. We owe them nothing less,” McDonald said.

Go to  to link to the report.

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Published on Nov. 6, 2014

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  1. gary clouse November 11, 2014 at 6:01 pm

    Why in the Hell did the federal government do away with Survivor Benefits (Which is a paid up annuity plan!) if the widow recieves DIC? That is a breech of contract in civil world but just another screw job in the VA!!

  2. Domenic DeStefano November 10, 2014 at 8:10 am

    I am a VA employee and Veteran. 2 years ago I almost died from mistreatment, negligence, and misdiagnosis from VA doctors at the VA Hospital in Washington DC. For months, I was suffering from endocarditis (a bacterial heart infection) which multiple VA doctors told me was “gout”. If not for my wife insisting I seek private health care, I would not be here today. I am now “fighting” VBA to try and get service connected benefits. I commend Secretary McDonald for trying to fix things at VA. Time will tell.

  3. Danny November 7, 2014 at 2:21 pm

    Hey Dan, I wholeheartedly agree with your comments. But since this is a blog concerning veterans and the Veterans Administration, I have tried to restrict my comments to the environment that applies to them. we have a big enough mess to deal with in our world, if you will, the private sector is a whole new mess. Thank you for taking the time to respond and I do respect your views.

  4. Danny November 7, 2014 at 10:54 am

    I believe the unions should not be able to use people paid by the tax payers to perform Union duties. If the unions are so vital to those employed by the VA, they the union should have to pay those people. Why should the veterans have to suffer because of the loss of VA employee time and money while these people perform Union duties? I am a former VA employee and union member, and have seen this situation with my own eyes. I have also heard of bad experiences at my local VA facility from friends employed there. It seems the union is more interested in making money then helping the lower echelon employees. 1 friend at the va was even told…. if you don’t like the situation I will help you write your letter of resignation. I for one would vote to expel the unions from the VA system.

    • Dan F November 7, 2014 at 12:07 pm

      I agree, the unions protect the indifferent, self-centered employee. However, the work rules, termination policies and other HR activities must be approved by the employer, which is the US government.

      One has to realize that government workers’ unions negotiate work rules and benefits. Salaries are controlled by GS level or other government defined income programs. When you insulate an employee against the ultimate sanction, what would you expect? This issue is totally the responsibility of those setting law and policy to enact and enforce laws and policy to fire unproductive/unnecessary employees. It’s done tens of thousands of times a month in the private sector. Why should government employee’s have it better than someone employed in the private sector?

  5. Gary L. Preedom November 7, 2014 at 8:12 am

    I’m a volunteer at the White River Jct. VA in Vermont. I also tried to get hired there before I retired. I got the impression that persons leaving the VA are not replaced until much later, after they have left. This leaves a gap in the system. Other workers have to take over the responsibilities until another person is hired and trained. Which includes training this new person. I understand when one must leave unexpectedly, but not when one is known to be leaving. The extra expense of hiring and training a person before one leaves seems logical and would relieve extreme pressures on the staff, who then could focus on their jobs better.
    If I have the wrong impression and have made a bad call here, fore give me. If not then please consider this situation.
    Thank you for your time and efforts. We have a great VA here at White River Junction.
    Gary L. Preedom
    USAF 1968/1972

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