Remarks by Secretary Eric K. Shinseki
Presidential Rank Awards
The Army and Navy Club. Washington, DC
July 14, 2011
Good afternoon, and welcome to VA’s 2010 Presidential Rank Awards ceremony. The men and women we honor today represent the very best in VA leadership. So, thank you all, especially our current and former senior leaders, for demonstrating, through your presence, your testament to the pride and confidence we all share in these award recipients.
Most importantly, welcome to our awardees and their families, and congratulations on this honor of such high distinction. I’d especially like to thank the families for putting up with the demands of this large and important organization called VA—demands that I know, all too often, compete with family time. Sometimes, even when your loved ones are at home, they are not entirely there. Your support and sacrifice over the years has allowed this department to strive to be the best in government, and I am pleased to have this opportunity to express my appreciation directly to you—so thank you all.
President Abraham Lincoln recognized America as this land of great opportunity, where any citizen who dreams big dreams and works hard enough, can make those dreams come true. In his words, “Nowhere in the world is presented a government of so much liberty and equality. To the humblest and poorest amongst us are held out the highest privileges and positions.” He further enjoined, “This government … is worthy of [our] every effort”—in other words, make America live up to its potential by delivering the opportunity it promises. And that is why we celebrate these awards. These men and women, with their energy, intellect, drive, and determination, have lifted VA to a higher plane, making government live up to its potential for good.
Today’s awardees came to VA from every corner of our Nation, from many walks of life. Each brought personal skills, knowledge, and attributes, which empowered VA’s own creativity in aspiring to excellence. No matter how you entered VA, or where you came from, you all quickly wedded yourselves to our common mission: to care for our Nation’s Veterans, their families, and our survivors.
Through your devotion to that mission you have distinguished yourselves for highest praise and commendation. Your long hours; your high standards—met and exceeded; and your resilience in achieving greater good, always, for our Veterans, families, and survivors have been inspiring to all of us—your colleagues, the Veterans you serve, VA’s leadership, and even President Obama himself—who has demonstrated his admiration by signing your awards personally.
Let me share with you just a few examples of the quality of contributions coming from today’s award winners:
In one VISN, quality performance measures jumped from 57% to 86%--a near 30% move to excellence. There was a 131% increase in telemedicine activities, and a corresponding increase in access to care for Veterans previously isolated by geography.
Another award recipient led the establishment of the disability evaluation system pilot program, linking VA and Department of Defense medical evaluation processes in order to reduce duplicate exams and improve resource efficiencies.
And one of our awardees is responsible for expanding the services of our National Cemetery system by creating a land acquisition process that lets VA buy the land we need—when we need it—to expand our cemeteries and avoid any interruptions to services for the Veterans we honor in our National Shrines.
These are but select examples from the long list of achievements accumulated by today’s Presidential Rank Awardees. They know, better than most, that leadership is a team dynamic—successful leaders lead by example; by mentoring; by helping individual members of their teams grow in skills, knowledge, and attributes—strengthening the entire team and its collective performance in the process. They affirm their leadership through the successes of their subordinates. Accepting things as they are is simply not an option. Competent organizations are about leaders growing leaders—leaders who are capable of managing change. Holding to the status quo only assures irrelevance.
We are that competent organization that knows its mission; that cares about its people; that grows them into leaders who won’t allow single-point failures to jeopardize the organization, and who are all prepared to turn and reinforce others, where needed, to ensure that Veterans, families, and survivors are cared for. And that is why honoring today’s awardees is right; as busy as we may be, important; and comes with my personal respect and admiration for the leaders we honor today.
Integrity: “Because I care, I will: Act with high moral principle. Adhere to the highest professional standards. Work to maintain the trust and confidence of everyone.
Commitment: “Because I care, I will: Work diligently to serve Veterans and other beneficiaries. Be driven by an earnest belief in VA’s mission. Fulfill my individual and my organizational responsibilities.
Advocacy: “Because I care, I will: Be fully Veteran-centric by identifying, fully considering, and appropriately advancing the interests of Veterans and other beneficiaries. Respect: “Because I care, I will: Treat all those I serve, and with whom I work, with dignity and respect. Show respect to earn it.
Excellence: “Because I care, I will: 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.”
These are our shared values. It took VA two-and-a-half years to develop them collaboratively. Our awardees began living them long ago—their behaviors, in fact, helped define “who we are” through the promises we make when we recite each core value.
My congratulations, once again, to all the awardees and their families—we are exceedingly proud of your accomplishments.
May God bless you, our Veterans, and our great country.