By: Frank McCurdy, National Executive Committeeman
If you hold a leadership position within the American Legion (AL), have you ever wondered if the AL was really up to the task of protecting veterans earned benefits? Today, I have no doubt. Without the AL ‘s intervention in calling for Secretary Shinseki resignation, we would continue being stonewalled by an unresponsive VA bureaucracy.
During National Convention, Commander Dan Dellinger was recognized for having the courage to confront the VA for their lack of transparency, accountability, and lack of communication with Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs). This entire episode started at the May 2014 NEC meeting. Five months later, the VA leadership team has the political and financial support to provide veterans quality healthcare. Reforming a government bureaucracy with 341,000 employees is no easy task! Fortunately, the new leadership of the VA shows promise.
Secretary Bob McDonald and Deputy Secretary Sloan Gipson appear to bring executive level talent and a veteran orientation necessary to transform the VA into a responsive customer service healthcare system.
Sloan Gipson, during his July visit to Denver VAMC, outlined a set of priorities to restore trust in the VA system. Congress was listening. Now, most of Gipson’s stated priorities are now included into HR 3230 Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 (Public Law 113-146 enacted 8 Aug 2014). If you are interested in the details, go to www.thomas.loc.gov and input HR 3230.
The new law provides 10 billion dollars for Veterans to seek healthcare at Non-VA facilities. There is another 5 billion dollars appropriated for the VA to hire additional medical staff. This is a good first start. What can we expect from our new VA Secretary?
The Secretary has set his priorities in a VA News release (www.va.gov – select public affairs 9/8/2014.). As CEO of Procter & Gamble, he managed 120,000 employees. However, changing the culture of a government agency with 341,000 employees is very challenging. During his Sept 8th press conference the Secretary stated, “We need to open the lines of communication in the VA and get rid of some of the hierocracy and bureaucracy, flatten the organization, and focus on the veterans.” I think we all could vote for that concept. What about the Fitz VAMC?
Nothing official has been decided. We still are waiting for the Civilian Board of Contract Appeals (CBCA) to rule around Jan 2015. When the CBCA does rule, we know the VAMC will cost more than the approved 630 million. I would expect Congress to find necessary additional funding.
The American Legion receives significant respect within the walls of Congress. For that reason, the AL is a major player in shaping public policy concerning veterans. No need for doubt, that influence is a fact.