Thank you, and good morning, everyone. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Just a few weeks ago, VA hosted a visit of tech pros from some of the country’s best-in-class private sector organizations to review some of our claims processing technology. After spending a week with us, here’s what they had to say: “We were blown away by the people—the passion they showed for the mission of serving Veterans; how hard they worked. It was like they weren’t going to let anything keep them from getting their job done.”
That’s the same thing I have found in my less than three months at VA. Everywhere I go, I meet people who care deeply about the mission, who want desperately to do the right thing for Veterans, and who work incredibly hard to get it done.
Another thing I’ve learned is how surprised people outside the organization are at the scope and scale of their Department of Veterans Affairs. It’s the second-largest agency in Government, with some 341,000 employees.
We operate the largest and most transparent healthcare system in America. Nearly 9 million Veterans are enrolled in VA healthcare, which is delivered at 1700 locations Nationwide.
We operate 151 medical centers that are affiliated with more than 1800 educational institutions. Many people don’t know about VA’s training mission. Two-thirds of physicians in the United States, and about half the Nation’s nurses, did at least part of their medical training at VA.
We also operate 820 outpatient clinics across the country, with 70 mobile clinics supporting rural areas. Through our medical centers and outpatient clinics, VA delivers 90 million outpatient visits every year. I should also point out VA is a national leader in telehealth and telemental health.
Recently we released our Facility Quality & Safety Report, which along with the American Customer Satisfaction Index independent survey, shows that VA is delivering quality care, patient safety, and patient satisfaction comparable to—or better than—large, private-sector providers.
Our 300 Vet Centers around the country provide readjustment counseling for combat Veterans.
But VA is more than healthcare.
This year we will distribute $66 billion in disability, dependency, and indemnity compensation; Our Vocational Rehabilitation programs serve 116,000 disabled Veterans each year with job training and job-seeking skills, as well as independent living services;
We pay $10 billion annually in educational benefits and guarantee two million home loans. We are the Nation’s 9th largest life insurance enterprise, with $1.3 trillion in coverage and 6.7 million clients.
VA runs the largest national cemetery system—131 cemeteries across the country. Our cemeteries continue to lead the Nation in customer satisfaction—#1 among major public-private organizations of all types.
Notwithstanding all this scope and scale, the simple fact is, VA can’t do it alone. We need your help. Collaborations, teaming, partnerships, and alliances of all sorts are essential to doing business in the 21st century. Increasingly, they are vital, key element to opening the door to greater opportunities for Servicemembers and Veterans and their families.
At VA, ramping up partnerships with non-profit organizations is a strategic priority. We want to expand our collaborative relationships, make them even stronger, and leverage them to build capacity to better serve Veterans and their families.
We’re already engaging the non-profit sector like never before. We estimate that we are affiliated, in one way or another, with 28,000 non-profit organizations. Let me give you a couple of great examples:
Those are just a few examples of the thousands of non-profit partnerships that are making a difference for Veterans.
I want to take a few minutes to talk about three areas where we especially need your help—areas where our Veterans and their families are facing the toughest challenges.
First, homelessness. No Veteran should be living on the streets. Period.
Back in 2009, Secretary Shinseki committed that we would have no Veterans living on the streets by the end of 2015. This is a challenge where partnerships and collaborations across Federal, State, and local governments and the private sector are absolutely essential.
VA currently works with more than 4,000 local and neighborhood groups to extend services to homeless Veterans. Last year, 230 Homelessness Stand Downs served more than 60,000 Veterans thanks to collaborations with organizations.
Corporate America and Veteran Service Organizations are pitching in to make a difference.
Home Depot has committed $80 million over five years to support housing needs; 10,000 units of Veterans’ housing have been delivered to date.
In a partnership with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, we are able to provide vouchers to fund permanent housing for homeless Veterans. However, we are limited in our ability to cover the costs of furniture and household essentials. So AMVETS, through their Welcome Home initiative, stepped in to provide that funding for more than 600 homeless Veterans and their families.
The results? Thanks to these collaborative relationships across the country, Veteran homelessness is down 24 percent since 2010.
But we have more work to do.
The second area I want to speak about is employment transition. Over the next several years more than a million Servicemembers will take off the uniform for the last time.
These men and women have displayed extraordinary strength and resilience. They sacrificed personally for the greater good. They demonstrated remarkable perseverance in the face of adversity to protect the freedoms we enjoy daily. They worked with others, often very different from themselves, to accomplish great feats.
They showed care and compassion for those in need—sometimes at the risk of their own lives—and they lived by the core values of duty, honor, and country and, in doing so, earned our trust. Can we imagine any situation in our companies and in our communities where we don’t need more people who put service before self? Who can bridge differences to accomplish great things? Who will persevere even in the face of daunting obstacles, and who we can trust implicitly to choose a harder right rather than an easier wrong?
We talk a lot about how hiring Veterans is the right thing to do. The fact is hiring Veterans is the smart thing to do!
Joining Forces and an array of public-private partnerships are making a difference:
Veteran hiring in the federal work force is up. VA, alone, hired 15,000 Veterans last year.
You’ve seen the corporate announcements. Walmart’s commitment to hire 100,000 Veterans over the next five years; JP Morgan’s 100,000 Jobs Mission leads a coalition of 140 companies committed to hiring Veterans; the US Chamber of Commerce is helping hundreds of thousands of Veterans seeking jobs. And just last week, the First Lady launched the new online e-Benefits Employment Center to help transitioning military families prepare for and find jobs in the public and private sectors.
But there’s more work to be done.
In my old job at the USO, from time to time, people would ask me what kept me awake at night. My answer was always: Our collective challenge in meeting the mental health needs of our Servicemembers, Veterans, and their families. This is the third area where we need your help.
A lot has already been accomplished. The President and Congress have increased VA’s mental health funding more than 60 percent over the last six years. We’ve recently hired more than 1,600 new mental health clinicians and more than 800 peer specialists, bringing our total mental health staffing to over 20,000. And we increased the capacity of the Veterans Crisis Line by 50 percent last year.
The Departments of Veterans Affairs, Defense, and Health and Human Services implemented a national suicide prevention campaign to connect Servicemembers and Veterans with mental health and substance abuse treatment resources.
Last year, VA hosted 152 mental health summits specifically designed to increase collaboration with community clinics and other local mental health resources. Twelve thousand participants attended at more than 150 VA facilities. Almost 90 percent of survey respondents reported they would be likely to collaborate with VA to enhance mental health care for Veterans and their families. We are already planning another series of mental health summits for this year, with a special emphasis on support for families.
The Administration has launched a new Cross-Agency Priority Goal initiative, which I co-chair, to improve mental health outcomes for Servicemembers, Veterans, and their families. This effort focuses on removing barriers, improving access, and strengthening research, with a particular emphasis on building collaborative community relationships that increase our collective capacity.
But here, too, there is more work to be done.
Homelessness. Career transition. Mental health. When we all work together—collaboratively—Veterans, Servicemembers, and their families are the winners.
It’s not about any one organization. It’s about these men and women who put their lives on the line for us. We benefited—every one of us—from their service and sacrifice. Let’s be there for them the same way they were there for us.
In closing, let me say I’ve been honored to be here representing VA’s 341,000 employees who care for our Veterans and their families every day.
Thank you, all, for your commitment to serving those who wear or have worn the cloth of our Nation, and their families. And special thanks to the Council on Foundations, the White Oak Steering Committee, and the American Red Cross for hosting this event today.