Former Procter & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald, President Barack Obama's nominee to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, pledged to use his experience in business leadership to improve the embattled system at a hearing before the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs Tuesday.
Committee members briefed McDonald on the VA's "systemic failures" with regard to access, accountability, integrity and transparency.
"The seriousness of this moment demands urgent action, and if confirmed, I pledge to this Committee, and to our nation's veterans, to take a series of immediate actions over the first 90 days to deliver the needed reforms our veterans deserve," McDonald said. "I will put the veteran at the center of all we do, consistent with our mission."
Upon confirmation, McDonald pledged to begin with a national video conference with all VA sites to detail his leadership vision and request that employees disclose any further concerns or problems. He also intends to refocus the VA's strategic plan and make sure it is properly implemented. McDonald also testified his intent to factor action plans into all employees' annual performance reviews and work to improve communications between field employees and the central office.
Meanwhile, acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson vowed to crack down on the practice of punishing whistleblowers, according to the Associated Press. A recent report found that nearly 800 current and former VA employees and veterans complained of or commented on retaliation after disclosing care delays, errors and low care quality, FierceHealthcare previously reported.
"I learned in the private sector, the most important source of information, ideas for innovation and continuous improvement, are your employees," Gibson said. "If we're working to deliver better outcomes for veterans, the last thing we want to do is to create an environment where people are afraid to raise their hand. We're not going to tolerate that behavior."
Part of the reason for the VA's continual problems is its budgetary process, Garry Augustine, executive director of Disabled American Veterans, wrote in an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal. The White House and Congress continually underestimate the VA's budget needs, Augustine writes, often appropriating billions of dollars less than what the VA requires to do its job.