"We’re trying to make the VA customized for every single veteran, putting the veteran at the center of everything we do."
U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald discusses the transformation of the VA, customizing the experience for every single veteran and how VA technology, research and innovation benefits not only veterans, but all Americans. Click here for part 2 of this interview.
Interview recorded on October 21, 2016. Read a transcript of this interview below.
Traynham: Recent headlines continue to focus on healthcare delays for our nation’s veterans through the VA. But these headlines only tell part of the story. Close to 9 million veterans receive healthcare from the VA in addition to other services. Hello, everyone, and welcome to “Comcast Newsmakers.” I’m Robert Traynham. And joining me today is Robert McDonald. He’s the United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Mr. Secretary, welcome to the program.
McDonald: Thank you, Robert. It’s great to be with you.
Traynham: As I mentioned a few moments ago, there have been some unfortunate news in the headlines with respect to your department. There are some folks out there that are saying it’s too slow, it’s too bureaucratic. We need to innovate. We need to perhaps maybe even privatize the organization. Your response.
McDonald: Well, my response is, we are transforming the VA. We have something going on right now called MyVA. We’re trying to make the VA customized for every single veteran, putting the veteran at the center of everything we do. We have five strategies — improve the veteran experience using some human-centered design technology and other ways to improve the experience. Second, improve the employee experience. Not surprisingly, the best customer-service organizations in the world are also the best places to work. Third, improve internal support services. Fourth, create a culture of continuous improvement based on Lean Six Sigma technology. And fifth, have strategic partnerships. We know we can’t do this job entirely by ourselves. By having strategic partners, they’re a force multiplier. Also, there are a lot of veterans — a number of veteran who got dishonorable discharges, which by law, we’re not allowed to serve, so we need strategic partners to be able to serve them.
Traynham: I didn’t know that. So if you’ve been dishonorably discharged, you cannot use the VA services.
McDonald: Depending upon the quality of your discharge, but a dishonorable discharge, generally, would not allow you to use VA services.
Traynham: Mr. Secretary, a few moments ago, I had mentioned other services, if you will, beyond healthcare. What else does the VA provide for veterans?
McDonald: Well, we have about nine lines of business. We do everything from GI Bill. I got my graduate degree using the GI Bill. Home mortgage. My very first home mortgage was a GI home mortgage. Life insurance. Most people know us for our medical care, which is probably 85% or so of the funding that we have. That’s a big part of it.
Traynham: I noticed with interest a few moments ago you said, “line of business,” and when I hear that, I hear innovation. I also hear forward-leaning. I hear, basically, tearing up the bureaucracy, and I think that’s what the president has said when he nominated you to become secretary. Do you share that vision, or is that the vision?
McDonald: Well, I think the judgment the president made was, he wanted a business leader who was a veteran to bring state-of-the-art technology and innovation from the private sector to the VA, and that’s what the MyVA transformation is all about. Innovation is a big part of it because innovation is the way we improve the way we improve veterans’ lives. So, for example, we’re innovating medical science, and it’s the innovation of medical science that the VA has done that has actually helped American medicine and helped the American people, whether it was inventing the first cardiac pacemaker, doing the first electronic medical record…
Traynham: The first liver transplant.
McDonald: First liver transplant in Pittsburgh, doing sensors, using sensors to move prosthetic devices. And just recently, something called osseointegration, which is not yet FDA-approved but is something we’re working to get —
Traynham: Food and Drug Administration, for those who may not know who the FDA is.
McDonald: Yeah, something we’re working to get FDA-approved. Basically, what we do is, is rather than fitting a prosthetic device on the remaining part of a person’s limb — let’s say a leg — where that junction becomes problematic, we take a titanium rod, and we insert it in the large femur bone. And what that does is, it gives a better sensation of that prosthetic device and avoids a lot of the infections and other things that become problematic. So, Bryant, the first veteran that we did this with in Salt Lake City, e-mailed me after the operation a few days later, and he said after the operation, he could now feel the grout cracks in the tile of his shower with his prosthetic leg. He also said that he cut his golf score by 15 strokes, and he was very happy.
Traynham: [ Chuckles ] I’m sure he is or was. Mr. Secretary, also my understanding is that you have reduced the wait time. From my understanding, for mental health, it’s two days?
McDonald: About 2, 2 1/2 days.
Traynham: Primary care?
McDonald: Primary care about five days, specialty care about six days. Those are the national averages… (END OF PART 1)