VA chief vows to make up for 'failed leadership'

Robert McDonald, the new Veterans Affairs secretary, said Saturday that his department had a rare opportunity to make up for its “failed leadership.”

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McDonald, speaking to a Disabled American Veterans Conference in Las Vegas, said he would never underestimate the tough challenge in shoring up a department known for falling short in delivering care.

“Listen—coming face-to-face with the reality some veterans have endured isn’t a disaster,” McDonald said in his first speech as secretary. “It’s opportunity.”   

McDonald, confirmed unanimously by the Senate last month, also noted that the VA hospital in Phoenix had been tagged as the “epicenter” of the department’s problems, even though those issues were widespread and systemic.

McDonald visited the hospital this week in his first site visit since taking over the department’s reins.

“That’s a bad reputation to have, and it’s going to take time and action to change it,” he said. 

McDonald, a West Point graduate and former Army Ranger, takes over the veterans department after serving as chief executive of Procter and Gamble.

His department came under fire this year after officials at the Phoenix hospital were found to have doctored records to hide how long it took for veterans to receive care.

McDonald on Saturday praised the new bipartisan veterans legislation signed by Obama this week, which will put $5 billion toward hiring new doctors and staff and another $10 billion toward giving certain veterans outside care.

He also noted that bonuses for VA brass have been suspended, and that the two-week goal for setting up appointments for veterans – a deadline that might have helped drive the doctoring of records – has been shelved as well.

“The fastest, most up-to-date technology and systems are no substitute for looking at ourselves through the eyes of veterans,” McDonald said. “When we do that, our direction and requirements will be crystal clear.”