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Veterans Secretary Wants VA Whistleblowers

U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs

Secret patient waiting lists, delayed medical care, retaliation against whistleblowers  are all reasons why trust in the VA hit an all-time low this spring especially on Capitol Hill.

The new Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Robert “Bob” McDonald is trying to restore that trust. He’s started by visiting as many VA facilities as possible during his first 90 days in office.

McDonald toured several Florida VA facilities this week and he invited U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman of the House Committee of Veterans Affairs, to come along.

”Bob McDonald gets it,” Miller said during a Wednesday afternoon news conference at Tampa’s James A. Haley VA Polytrauma Center. “He came on board at a time when the VA was going through probably the worst crisis that they ever had in the history of its time in the federal government. I would say that he is a hands-on person.”

McDonald says the formality of his position can get in the way of serving veterans. So, he insists that everyone call him “Bob” not “Secretary.” He has publicly shared his cell phone number  and takes calls from veterans at all times of the day.

As the retired CEO of Procter and Gamble, McDonald  is all about improving customer service now and better forecasting veterans’ needs.

Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
WUSF Public Media
A poster inside Tampa's James A. Haley VA announcing Wednesday's Town Hall meeting with the new secretary, Robert "Bob" McDonald.

He blames a huge influx of veterans seeking benefits and care for many of the VA problems especially, when employee evaluations were linked to how fast veterans got scheduled and seen by a doctor. Bottom line, some veterans waited too long to see a doctor while others went without any care.

McDonald said he is waiting on the results of 93 active Inspector General Investigations.

“Some of those investigations are going to result in the Department of Justice being involved, some of them will result in the FBI being involved, and some of them could well result in criminal charges being brought,” McDonald said.

A West Point graduate and veteran Army Airborne Ranger, McDonald said he has no tolerance for employees who don’t embrace a core value of the VA – the veterans come first. But he is equally ready to defend any VA employee who exposes a problem.

Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
WUSF Public Media
On the left, U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller (FL-R) and on the right, VA Secretary Bob McDonald, during a news conference Wednesday at Tampa's James A. Haley VA Polytrauma Center.

“I celebrate whistleblowers. I want every employee to be a whistleblower,” McDonald said. “I can’t improve, we can’t improve unless every employee is a whistleblower.”

To improve access to medical care, McDonald extended clinic hours, used mobile clinics, and had people work overtime.

“I’ve done some research and this may surprise you, but we don’t see the full effect of a war in terms of impact on Veterans Affairs until 40 years after the war,” McDonald said.

And he wants the VA to be ready when that influx of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans hits in 2054.

Bobbie O’Brien has been a Reporter/Producer at WUSF since 1991. She reports on general news topics in Florida and the Tampa Bay region.
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