Remarks by Secretary Eric K. Shinseki
Remarks at the Service to America Awards Ceremony for VA Employees Todd Grams and Al Batres
September 15, 2011
Good evening, everyone.
The Department of Veterans Affairs, VA, is blessed with the noblest of missions—serving America's Veterans by providing them the very best in healthcare, benefits, and memorial services. From Maine to Manila, these three administrations deliver:
- Healthcare services to eight million Veterans;
- Compensation and benefits to four million recipients; and,
- Compassion and comfort to the families of over 100,000 Veterans annually laid to rest in one of our 131 National cemeteries.
VA's large and complex checkbook is managed by Todd Grams, a CFO with more than 30 years of knowledge and expertise gained in government service—11 years at the Office of Management and Budget; a former chief financial officer of the Veterans Health Administration; and, chief information officer and chief financial officer of the I.R.S., the Internal Revenue Service.
To VA's good fortune, Todd returned to VA in 2009 to serve a cause close to his heart—the men and women who have safeguarded this Nation. And on their behalf, he has spent the last two years driving major, unprecedented improvements in financial management and program integration:
- Implementing transformational change to the prioritization and decision-making processes and linking them VA-wide;
- Delivering VA's first-ever integrated capital planning program;
- Dramatically improving performance of VA's $14 billion purchasing program—greatly increasing accountability, efficiency, and effectiveness of the fund by initiating financial management training for 5,000 VA employees, and overhauling and updating 169 VA regulations;
- And, finally, leading a comprehensive review that terminated a major financial systems replacement—saving taxpayers $500 million—and shifting VA's financial management priorities to less costly initiatives that delivered greater benefits.
In less than two years, Todd Grams has empowered VA to spend its available money more wisely, reduce unnecessary costs, and free-up funds to improve and optimize services for Veterans and for their families.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am greatly honored to present W. Todd Grams—problem-solver, change agent, transformational leader, and exemplar of good government.
Partnership for Public Service, Service to America Awards
Dr. Alfonso Batres, Career Achievement Medal
One hundred and forty-six years ago, following the most devastating war in our Nation's history, President Abraham Lincoln called on all Americans, "to care for him who shall have borne the battle ..." Today, that mandate remains VA's mission. We embrace the consequences of battle, every day, throughout our department, but nowhere more so than in our Vet Centers where readjustment counseling is provided to all combat Veterans who suffer one of the signature wounds of war—PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder.
Vet Centers sprang up in the 1970s, when returning Vietnam Veterans, bereft of mental health care, began turning to each other to help talk through, Veteran to Veteran, the lingering emotional vestiges of combat.
Today, Vet Centers—walk-in, storefront operations in our communities—serve combat Veterans of all eras and their families—a tribute to those visionary Veterans of Vietnam who originated them. From their ranks came the combat-tested leader we honor this evening: a psychologist who, in 1984, began what was to become his life's passion— improving, expanding, and shaping the quality of services available to those exposed to the high-risk, high precision, hyper-stress, no-fail environment that is combat. He has:
- Taken the Vet Center program from 200 Vet Centers just six years ago to 300 today;
- Expanded Vet Center services to all combat Veterans, family members of those killed on active duty, and Veterans who suffered sexual trauma while on active duty;
- Hired O-E-F and O-I-F combat Veterans to outreach and provide services to other combat Veterans;
- Developed an agile, mobile Vet Center concept that responded to, among other crises, the tragic shooting incident at Fort Hood, the Red River overflowing its banks in North Dakota, and the recent devastation of tornados in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
- And finally, instituted a National Combat Call Center, providing immediate, one-on-one, Veteran-to-Veteran mental health support to Veterans in crisis—24 hours a day, every day.
Our men and women who serve, and have served the Nation, could not ask for a greater champion than tonight's recipient of the Service to America Career Achievement Medal.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am greatly honored to present Dr. Alfonso Batres—Vietnam Veteran, eminent psychologist, respected leader, and compassionate advocate for Veterans.