Ahead of Veteran’s Day, VA Announces Major Reforms

VA Secretary Bob McDonald holds a round table meeting with staff members from Veteran Service Organizations, on November 5, 2014.

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VA Secretary Bob McDonald holds a round table meeting with staff members from Veteran Service Organizations, on November 5, 2014.

VA Secretary Bob McDonald just announced a major overhaul of the government's second-largest agency. Will it work? By Ben Watson

On the eve of Veteran’s Day, Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald unveiled several major reforms to overhaul the embattled agency.

In what he called “the largest restructuring in the department’s history,” McDonald sent a memo to employees on Monday informing them that he was creating a Chief Customer Service Officer, who would report directly to him, streamlining the agency’s regional structure and establishing a Community Veteran Advisory Council.

“Please keep in mind that this is a long-term process and we are just beginning to plan how this will all unfold. As we move forward with these changes, your feedback, ideas and perspective will be invaluable,” McDonald wrote in the memo.

The VA also created an intranet web tool, called the MyVA Idea House, where employees can log on and provide feedback.

Since taking office about 100 days ago, McDonald, the former CEO of Proctor & Gamble, has taken to calling veterans “customers.” He’s also been working hard to rebuild the VA’s image after several scandals, including allegations that appointment wait times led to the deaths of veterans at the Phoenix VA Hospital.

McDonald’s reforms didn’t come with much details. There’s no word on who will serve as his Chief Customer Service Officer, and the memo says the creation of a single regional framework “will simplify internal coordination, facilitate partnering and enhance customer service. This will allow veterans to more easily navigate VA without having to understand our inner structure.”

“Right now [veterans] face nine different organization structures across the country so they don’t know where to go and if they do find somebody to go to that person may be an expert in benefits but not an expert in heath care,” McDonald told CBS News’ “60 Minutes” on Sunday night. “And we want to create a customer service representative that that person can go to. Secondly they face multiple websites that require multiple user names and multiple passwords and that’s not acceptable. We’ve got to get to one website, one entry point, and then fan people out from there.”

Last week, McDonald told reporters recent changes have led to a decline in the average patient wait time by 18 percent. The first phase of a program to allow some vets short-term access to private healthcare providers to help support a strained VA system is also under way. McDonald said Friday there were more than 1,000 VA employees who could lose their job for “violat[ing] our values.”

“The report we’ve passed up to the Senate Committee and House Committee, has about 35 names on it,” McDonald said. “I’ve got another report that has over 1,000.”

Though reforms have been passed to make it easier to fire VA employees, the system still takes time, he said. 

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, which represents post-9/11 veterans, said McDonald has his work cut out for him.

“As the second largest bureaucracy in the federal government and after a summer of scandal, the VA has a mammoth challenge ahead of itself and Secretary McDonald has the toughest job in Washington,” IAVA CEO and founder Paul Rieckoff said in a statement. “He inherited an organization with a badly damaged reputation that only positive results can repair. And he will need tremendous support from Congress, the president, the public, and the veteran community to achieve those results.”

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