On behalf of Secretary Eric Shinseki, I congratulate you…and thank you…for joining the proud ranks of staff here at the Department's headquarters.
Before I get any deeper into what I know you hope will be brief comments, let me ask how many of you are Veterans?
How many of you are recently separated from the service?
Thank you for your service to our country, and for serving, yet again, this time in the best interests of all our country's Veterans.
Our mission at VA is very straightforward. It is in direct response to the promise made nearly 150 years ago by President Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address, in which he pledged that the Nation would commit itself, "To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan."
Our commitment to Veterans begins when a man or woman takes the oath of enlistment or commissioning. VA services can be accessed and utilized long before a Soldier, Airman, Marine, Sailor, or Coastguardsman separates from service.
We work with DoD to assure active-duty troops are ready to take on new roles when they hang up their uniforms and adopt their new title, Veteran. And when those new Veterans—the soldiers from Afghanistan or Iraq—come to us, or when our older Veterans—those who may have served in World War II, or Korea, or Vietnam—come to us, we are ready and waiting to offer healthcare, pensions, home loans, insurance, and, yes, burial plans, too.
VA is the only Cabinet-level Department whose customer is in its name: Veterans. As such, President Lincoln's words will guide your efforts on behalf of approximately 22.2 million Veterans. Altogether, Veterans, their dependents, and survivors make up about 19 percent of America's population.
The men and women who will rely on you to keep Lincoln's promise vary widely in age and health. They will be young Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan who may have those wars' signature wounds like traumatic brain injuries or amputated limbs. They will be Vietnam-era Veterans for whom Agent Orange and PTSD may be health concerns. Or they will be our oldest Veterans, from WW II and Korea, who now suffer from diabetes, vision and hearing loss, heart, liver, or kidney diseases.
They live in cities, suburbs, exurbs, and deep into rural America. Some are homeless—the number is coming down, and it is Secretary Shinseki's goal to eliminate Veteran homelessness by 2015. First and foremost, they are Veterans, and we will dignify their service with respect and our full attention.
No matter their age or illness, we care for all our Veterans with equity of purpose…with the same compassion, the same high standards of care, the same dedication to meet their medical, educational, home ownership, benefits, and, yes, burial needs.
Our profile looks like this:
2011, $126.6 billion; 2012 budget request, $132.2 billion.
The nation's largest healthcare system … 8.3 million Veterans enrolled.
152 medical centers affiliated with 107 of the best medical schools in the country;
Over 800 community-based outpatient clinics; 280 Vet Counseling Centers;
Outreach and mobile clinics engaging Veterans living in the most remote areas of the nation and its territories.
58 regional benefits offices … processing disability compensation for almost 3.3 million Veterans.
131 National Cemeteries—the largest system in the country. And, by the way…our cemetery system consistently rates the highest customer-service rankings in the industry.
Second only to the Department of Education in providing benefits; More than $9 billion dollars annually to more than 840,000 Veterans and eligible family members.
1.3 million individual home loans guaranteed.
The only zero-down lending institution in the country …
With a foreclosure rate that is the lowest among all financial institutions.
The Nation's eighth-largest life insurance enterprise;
$1.3 trillion in coverage for over seven million clients.
314,000 employees ... representing over 300 job series ... walk through our doors, every day, to deliver services in VA facilities located from Maine to Manila.
VA is at the forefront in creating new knowledge that has significantly advanced medical science: the cardiac pacemaker; the first successful liver transplants; the nicotine patch; hypertension medication; and the CT scanner—originally a VA research-driven diagnostic tool … it's now internationally ubiquitous.
We've had VA doctors and researchers place experiments on the Space Shuttle. Dr. Millie Hughes-Fulford, from the San Francisco VA Medical Center, is also a former astronaut. The career opportunities here do, literally, go from the ground, up!
When you signed on to VA, you signed on to help us tackle some pretty weighty matters. Whether you are coming to us with many years experience in the federal government, or you are just getting underway with a public-service career, your participation on our team is equal in value.
Three challenges in particular require all of us to dig deep into our tool boxes of skills and innovative thinking to reduce backlog in disability claims; increase access to services and benefits; and end Veteran homelessness by 2015.
To do so, we must, change VA's culture from adversary to Veteran Advocate, deliver better services and benefits to set higher standards, and build strong and flexible management infrastructure systems; We will achieve these goals by being people-centric, results oriented, and forward thinking.
Human Capital Investment Program—an initiative created to develop VA staff into a proactive, forward-looking, and professional workforce.
Improve internal customer satisfaction with management systems and support services to achieve mission performance and make VA an employer of choice by investing in human capital.
An investment of $293.4 million in training linked to HCIP in FY2011. VA will deliver ongoing training VA-wide to professionally develop our workforce.
This past year, our leadership, with input from across VA, developed a VA Values statement, we call I CARE.
Integrity—Act with high moral principle. Adhere to the highest professional standards. Maintain the trust and confidence of all with whom I engage.
Commitment—Work diligently to serve Veterans and other beneficiaries. Be driven by an earnest belief in VA's mission. Fulfill my individual and organizational responsibilities.
Advocacy—Be truly Veteran-centric by indentifying, fully considering, and appropriately advancing the interests of Veterans and other beneficiaries.
Respect—Treat all those I serve and with whom I work with dignity and respect. Show respect to earn it.
Excellence—Strive for the highest quality and continuous improvement. Be thoughtful and decisive in leadership, accountable for my actions, willing to admit mistakes, and rigorous in correcting them.
In the recently published book, That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back, Tom Friedman and Mike Mandelbaum interviewed DuPont's CEO, Ellen Kullman, and asked her to describe what she looks for in every DuPont employee. I think her answer also reflects what VA leadership looks for in our employees…what we will be looking for in you!
Kullman says it in one word: "Presence." She explained, "We want every employee to be present in the room. What I mean by that is that all the rote jobs today are gone—they are done by machines. Now you have to have people who can think and interact and collaborate.
"But to do that, they have to be engaged and paying attention—they have to be present—so that they are additive, and not just taking up space.
"Whatever job you have in the company, you need to understand how your job adds value. But you will not be successful here if you just come to work and say, 'When do I arrive, and when do I get to leave?'"
That business principle of "presence" holds true here at VA as well. We need to ensure that our Veterans receive the support that the American people know they have earned. We need you to "add value" to the business of caring for our heroes.
That means that all our VA employees—from our newest, that would be you, as well as those VA employees who are nearing retirement—have to be "present" every day. Taking up space is not an option.
We are going to ask you to be innovative and smart about how our Department manages tax dollars, the healthcare system, benefits delivery, small business opportunities, education and much more to help Veterans and their families.
We're going to ask for your advice, and we're going to expect that you will pipe up when you see something that could be changed if that means serving Veterans better.
We are going to give you a lot of responsibility but we're not going to jump down your throats if you make mistakes—just don't keep making the same one!We are going to be looking at you as our future leaders—as with all the other federal departments, there is an outflow of experience as the waves of retirement years wash over many of our senior leaders and managers.
The journey you are embarking on today, and the lessons you will learn, will be invaluable when it is time for you to lead tomorrow. We want you to succeed and to grow into the next generation of leaders.
I know you had other opportunities before you decided on VA. There are other federal agencies competing for your skills and knowledge, and we appreciate that you chose VA. More important than what I think about your choice, is what Veterans will think about it. You will have a chance every day to put your best efforts into making sure that our Department meets its commitments to the men and women we serve—our Veterans.
Congratulations again, and welcome to VACO!