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tv   VA Secretary Delivers Speech Ahead of Veterans Day  CSPAN  November 11, 2021 12:24pm-1:26pm EST

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watch american history saturday on c-span2 or online anytime. >> c-span is your unfiltered view of government. we are funded by these television companies and more. >> dennis mcdonough spoke at the
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press club ahead of the veterans day. >> good afternoon. welcome to the national press club, the place where news happens. i am the 114th president of the national press club, and assignment manager for u.s. video at the associated press. thank you for joining us, both those here in the ballroom and those viewing online for our headlining event with the secretary of veteran affairs, dennis mcdonough. as we commemorate veterans day, along with the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the tomb of the unknown soldier at
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arlington national cemetery, for those planning a visit to washington, the public can actually visit and pay respects at the tomb and a flower ceremony being held today and tomorrow. for those of you watching our headliner today, we are happy to accept your questions, and i will ask as many as time permits. to submit a question, please email and put veterans in the subject line. for those in the room, we have circulated cards. forever online audience, please be aware that in the audience today are members of the general public, and we are so happy to have you here. any applause or reaction you hear is not necessarily from the working press. let me begin by introducing the head table. please hold your applause until all of the head table guests are introduced.
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from my left and you're right, a u.s. navy vietnam veteran and member of the american legion post 20 and member of the national press club. matt quinn, undersecretary memorial affairs at the u.s. department of veteran affairs. kevin, a retired u.s. navy captain and headliners team member who helped arrange today's event. dr. mark upton, acting deputy undersecretary of health for community care. and max r, publisher of stars and stripes. from my right, your left, dickie jordan adams, senior advisor. myron, vietnam veteran, professor and past president of the national press club. mike, principal deputy undersecretary for benefits. jen, defense reporter with
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defense news and vice president of this national press club. finally, skipping over our guest of honor, the president of stanton communications and cochair of our headliner seem. thanks everyone -- our headliners team. thanks everyone. [applause] and now for our guest of honor. for years, veterans and the u.s. departments of veterans affairs have struggled with the persistent issues of access to quality medical care, high suicide rates, and homelessness. in recent weeks, all of those issues have risen to the top of the agenda for dennis mcdonough, who has led the v.a. since february 8. any veterans -- many veterans are struggling with covid-19, lasting physical and invisible combat wounds, adapting to civilian wife -- life. a report made public indicated
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that vets comprise 14% of all adult suicides in 2019. access to care is among the top issues for the v.a.. veterans appear to have difficulty accessing care specifically in rural areas of the country. according to the national center for veterans analysis and statistics, and the u.s. departments of veteran affairs office of rural health, of the nearly 20 million veterans in the united states, 4.7 million live in rural america. 2.7 million or 58% of these vets are enrolled in the veterans affairs health care system, with more than half affected by a service related condition. the task of ending homelessness among the nation's veterans is immense. according to the department of housing and urban development, more than 37,000 veterans are homeless. if that was not enough, tackling
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claims is front and center for the agency and secretary mcdonough. the v.a. recently announced it would hire 2000 new claims processors to address more than 260,000 benefits claims that have languished for more than 125 days. that is a lot. we are looking forward to hearing more from secretary mcdonough about these and many other issues. secretary mcdonough, welcome to the national press club. [applause] sec. mcdonough: good afternoon, everybody. thank you very much, lisa, for that kind introduction, for your stead ship -- steadfast leadership. it is great to be here. before i get into my remarks, i want to take a moment to recognize and remember a
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senator. a public servant and patriot who just passed away. the senator served everywhere from the jungles of vietnam, to the halls of washington, to his beloved home state of georgia. a war hero. and importantly, for me and this job, the father of the modern v.a.. it is hard to overstate how he modernized the v.a. for his fellow vietnam vets. uniquely, for that time, he understood that we at d.a. work for veterans -- we at v.a. work for veterans, not the other way around. and he instilled that you those in everything we do. it is the same teeth those -- same ethos -- we will all miss him dearly.
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i also want to recognize the other folks in the room. the great journalists who cover veterans, service members, day in and day out. the folks from the press club who set this event up so we could gather safely amid the pandemic. the veterans and military service organizations. i see one advocate out there. the work that you do to look out for vets 20 47. everyone who is watching online or listening on the radio, including my v.a. colleagues who do incredible work every day, and have particularly thrived in their work, notwithstanding the pandemic. most of all, all of the veterans
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here with us today. in person and online, my deepest appreciation to you and heartiest happy veterans day to you. it is an honor to be here with all of you. we're just two days away from veterans day, the day when america pauses to recognize the millions of brave men and women who fought in our nation's wars and defended us during periods of restless peace. veterans day is of course a day to honor these veterans. a day to remember all they have done and sacrificed for our country, a day to recognize that when those veterans serve and sacrifice, so do their families, their caregivers, their survivors. critically, veterans day is a call to action. a reminder that it is our responsibility as americans to
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serve those who have served our country. to fight for those who have fought for us. remember, as a country we now rely on a very small percentage of our population to fight for the rest of us. you might suspect that i am particularly sensitive to this issue as a non-that myself, and i am. because the risk is that vets and non-vets occupy two separate realities in america, leaving some vets isolated, or fearing the rest of the country does not appreciate what they have done for us. what their families do for us. the thing is, it is not on vets to break down that barrier. it is on all of us. particularly us non-vets. to serve with as much heart and soul as they have served us.
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fulfilling that obligation can come in a lot of forms. for most americans listening today, it can be something as simple as reaching out to the vets in their lives and bending a hand. -- lending a hand. for the great reporters in the room, it means telling the stories of veterans and servicemembers members of the wars they fought and the challenges they face, stories that in many cases, would not otherwise be known. at the v.a. it means providing veterans with world-class and timely, as lisa pointed out, timely health care, with the benefits they have earned and so rightly deserved, and with a lasting resting place that is a tribute to their service. the point is that we all have a part to play. no matter who we are, or what position we hold. as we approach veterans day, i
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asked that everyone watching or listening today renew that commitment to serving veterans, and to serving them well. because that is our most sacred responsibility. on this veterans day, and on every day. this afternoon, i would like to give an update on what we at the v.a. are doing to keep that promise to our veterans, their families, their survivors, their caregivers. it starts with responding to the pandemic. it has been devastating for all of us. we have lost so many veterans we served, the colleagues we work with, family and friends we loved. but serving veterans well means stepping up in times they need us most, and that is what the v.a.'s incredible employees, embodied by dr. mark upton have done during the pandemic.
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i am pretty biased on this. don't take it from me. ticket from, rick -- take it from a marine corps veteran. at the marine -- beginning of the pandemic, he walked into a v.a. medical center with a mild fever and cough, but his symptoms quickly worsened. doctors had to ask -- act fast. they put him on a ventilator and into a coma, when he would remain for a month. fortunately, v.a. doctors and nurses were able to pull him through. six weeks after he entered the hospital, he is able to go home. later, when ronald was asked if he was nervous to return to the medical center, he said no, not at all. the people who saved my life are there. i am always excited to be here, because this is where heroes work.
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i tell this story because he is right. pa employees have been nothing short of heroic, often risking their own lives, or putting their families at risk to save the lives of veterans. when covid first hit, they worked late nights, early mornings, everything in between to make sure our vets received the care they needed, deserved, earned. when ppe was running low, they invented 3d printed ppe and got it straight to the front lines. when it wasn't safe for veterans to come to the hospital, they cared for vets online, wrapping up telehealth appointments for 2500 per day in march 2020 245,000 per day a year later. when the vaccine became available, they sprang into action, vaccinating more than 4 million people and implementing the first vaccine requirement in
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the federal government. when non-vets needed help, they stepped up as part of our fourth mission, deploying to hotspots and providing beds for hundreds of covid patients, nonveteran covid patients in need. all the while never once denying a dead two of that. all of that translates into the one statistic that matters. veterans live saved, veterans lives improve. all of that work has made the v.a. into something different. max made the v.a. into something different, and our employees during this pandemic are doing it again. something new. we want our lives to get back to normal. at v.a., there is no going back to the old normal. the work we have done has forced us into a stronger and better
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department for the nation's veterans. telehealth, appeals for claims. the veterans legacy memorial, and our new v.a. mobile app are allowing us to meet vets where they want, when they want, and unprecedented ways. patient scores for vets. outpatient care rose to 90% this year. 90% trust rating, which in my mind should be the floor, not the ceiling. we have seen more patients and held more benefits hearings than in any previous year in v.a. history, a result of our goal to make sure vets get their care and benefits on time, every time. our cemeteries not only stayed open during the pandemic, but we expanded to six new locations. the pandemic has underlined the importance to establish national standards of practice, which
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will ensure v.a. providers can deliver the same great care, and access to all veterans, no matter where these providers are working or deploying across the country. across any state lines. especially during times of crisis. all in all, we are now providing more care and more services than more benefits to more veterans than ever before. as we look to the future, we are not trying to build a v.a. that goes back to the old normal. instead, we're going to continue to better for vets, we going to continue to be better for vets, and we will do that by driving towards the four fundamental principles that shape our vision for the future. advocacy. we're making sure that the v.a. is the nation's premier advocate for veterans. their families, caregivers and
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survivors. when it comes to advocacy, it starts at the top. with a military family in the white house, our shared mission could not be a higher priority for this administration, nor could it be closer to president biden and first lady dr. biden's heart. when president biden nominated me, he told me to fight like hell for our vets. that is what we're doing. this administration and congress are doing the same. delivering for our vets with the american rescue plan which allocated $17 billion to help us care for vets during the pandemic. the proposed reconciliation package, which has $5 billion to help vets thrive in the future. the save lives, which empowered us to vaccinate not just vets, espouses -- but espouses and caregivers. and with a proposed expansion of that same act that would allow
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caregivers and spouses to get flu shots at v.a. when they get their boosters. the house veteran affairs committee move this last week, and i heard congress would send it to president biden's desk as soon as possible. there is so much more where that came from. the bottom line is every part of this administration is focused on fighting for veterans everyday. access. we will move heaven and earth to get veterans timely access to their resources. a major part of that equation, making sure veterans have the best possible experience wherever they access v.a. benefits and services. at home, in the community, or from us at ba. that is why we are meeting vets where they are, expanding telehealth and by supporting caregivers. let me say this clearly on caregivers. caregivers are not an afterthought for us, they are
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our top priority. that is why i appointed the v.a.'s first senior advisor for caregivers, why the program of comprehensive assistance has enrolled 30,000 unique caregivers and veterans in the last year alone. it's why this coming october, we will expand the program of comprehensive assistance to cover all generations of caregivers. for vets who are getting care in the community, we build networks that have the right providers in the right locations to meet their needs no matter where they live. we are finally paying our bills on time. most importantly, we are dedicated to delivering a world-class experience for vets who get directly from v.a.. that means finding the right balance between direct care and community care. putting indirect care system on a sustainable path to ensure future generations of veterans enjoy the same great v.a. health
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care that past generations did. it means building an electronic record system that allows vets to access records wherever they receive care from the first said they put on the uniform to the last day of their life. it means rebuilding, repairing, realigning, and modernizing infrastructure to meet all veterans' needs. that and the structure is critical and be learned during the pandemic, the health of non-vets as well. v.a. is the backstop and innovator at the heart of the entire health care system. training america's physicians. 70% are trended our facilities. researching tomorrow's challenges. innovating today to overcome those challenges. that is never going to change. and it sure won't change on my watch. outcomes.
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outcomes drive everything we do, because as max insisted, vets, not us, are the ultimate judge of our success. there is no important outcome than preventing veteran suicides. one veteran that dies of suicide is one too many. mental health services are critical for suicide prevention, so keeping them during the pandemic has been our primary focus. fortunately, vets have adapted seamlessly to tele-mental health sessions, attending 5.6 million sessions already this year. more than doubling last year. we have also massively ramped up safety efforts, putting time and space between veterans in crisis and their firearms by passing
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out more than 9500 unlocks this year alone. and by launching an awareness campaign for veterans and their families that has garnered over 1.7 union impressions. in the aftermath of the war in afghanistan, we have reached out to every veteran to remind them that their service matters and we are here for them. whether they want to speak to another veteran, talk to a therapist, call our crisis line. text us at 838255. visit one of our vet centers or access any of v.a.'s mental health services online at me we are standing by and we are here to help today and everyday.
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because mental health care is health care. as the secretary of defense has said, mental health is health. another major focus is toxic exposure. we are not waiting for congress to act on this. we're going ahead and acting ourselves. we have already announced three major updates. first, we are creating new decision-making models for the terminating presumptive conditions. a model that will be guided by one core principle. getting veterans the benefits they have earned, and therefore deserve. second, veterans suffering from bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, parkinson's due to agent orange cannot be paid the benefits they are owed. third, for the first time in v.a. history, we are presumptively paying toxic exposure plays to gulf war veterans from 1991 to today.
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specifically, those who suffer from asthma, sinusitis and rhinitis, and we have delivered millions of dollars in benefits already. veterans have waited far too long for those benefits. we're doing everything in our power to make sure they won't have to wait any longer. this is just the beginning, not the end of those efforts on toxic exposure. we are moving ahead with the utmost urgency. lastly, on outcomes, we are laser focused on ending veterans homelessness. earlier in the summer at an event outside v.a. headquarters, a veteran came to get a shot. he was not wearing shoes. we got him vaccinated and our canteen staff got him a new
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parish shoes. on the one hand, the story is heartwarming, job well done. on the other, it's heartbreaking. that man serve our country. he should have shoes on his feet, a roof over his head, in fact there should be no such thing as a homeless veteran. not here, not in the greatest country in the world. i assure you, we will do whatever it takes to get the country's 40,000 homeless veterans into homes and keep them there. finally, excellence. we are seeking excellence in all we do for veterans by leveraging the strength and diversity that the fines our veteran population, our v.a. workforce, and in fact, this amazing country. our diversity is our strength, never a weakness. every person entering a v.a. facility, including the rapidly
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growing cohort of women's veterans, must feel safe. free of harassment and discrimination, and we will welcome all veterans. one of my first actions as v.a. secretary was ordering a top-down review of all policies to determine how we can make v.a. a more welcoming place for lgbtq plus veterans, women veterans, veterans of color, mst survivors, and all others. there is much more i can say, but it all boils down to this. for too long, veterans have fought to the -- protect our rights and freedoms. my rights, my freedoms. and of had to fright -- fight brutal battles at home for their own rights and freedoms. tragically, some of those fights continue to this day. but at v.a., those fights are over. i repeat. at v.a., those fights are over.
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in this administration, no one is going to have to fight to get the quality care benefits and services they have earned. no matter who they are. with a love. -- or who they love. that is where v.a. is headed, delivering more care and services to more veterans than ever before. being here at the national press club reminds me that we cannot do that great work without you. the journalist the tell the stories of our veterans. nobody better exemplifies that than joe galloway. i'm sure you know joe. he was the only civilian to receive the bronze star for heroism in vietnam. he passed away earlier this year. an incredible man, an exceptional reporter, who went to greater length than just about anyone to tell the stories of veterans and servicemembers. of that work, he once said you pay the price to tell the story.
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but the stories worth telling. -- but the story is worth telling. it's a reminder that we would not know so many veteran stories if not for the journalists who risk it all to tell them. journalists like kelly kennedy, an army vet who pioneered reporting on burn pits. an marine veteran who has done groundbreaking reporting on military sexual assault and harassment. austin, a marine veteran who risk everything to tell the world was happening in syria, and whose mom is with us today. you're in our hearts and minds every day. as secretary blinken said, we are working around the clock to bring you home. the list can go on. and on. there are so many courageous journalists covering veteran and
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servicemember issues right now. the stories that all of you tell, the truth to tell are often not easy. including the truth that lisa told to introduce me. it's true we fall short. sometimes they require to tell those truths that you pray for us, sometimes they require you brave backlash back home, but they are always important, both for the american public to hear, and for us at v.a. to hear. because those stories make us better. they help us better understand what veterans experience in war, what they are going through here at home, and how we can best help them. thank you for your magnificent work. your partnership. for putting up with me. and most of all, telling those stories. i promise to always be transparent with you, and to learn from you.
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and on this veterans day and every day, i promise to fight like hell for the bets who have fought for us. god bless you, god bless our nations troops, veterans, caregivers and survivors, and may we always give them our very best. i look forward to questions. [applause] >> it never gets old. thank you so much. can you hear me? sec. mcdonough: i can hear you. lisa: now you can. fantastic. thank you so much for your,. fantastic. first question, what is one of the things you have heard from a
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veteran yourself that has stuck with you the most since you have begun your term as secretary? sec. mcdonough: yeah, great question. there is good and bad. i'm going to cheat and give you two answers. one thing is someone i work with a lot over the years, spent a lot of time in the war zones in various areas, big geographic expanse from somalia to was becca stand and all of those places in between. he said to me the other day, i have to tell you, i have my tricare option, have not fully given it up, i like so much what i'm getting at my v.a., that i'm
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spending a lot of time at my v.a.. i thought to myself, this is somebody who has options, that is not the case for all veterans. they don't have options. he is choosing v.a.. i think that is great. another thing that sticks with me is i have heard -- secretary austin and i have done a series of events together with a group of women vets, who are basically challenging and helping us think through how we address a whole range of issues from what we call mst, what dod calls sexual assault. the stories i have heard from that group about what they have had to endure to get access to
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care emboldens me every day. those are two examples. lisa: you started out talking about covid and the covid related issues. the v.a. was the first federal agency to require its employees to be vaccinated against covid-19. i think the deadline was last month, october 8. what is the percentage of v.a. employees who have been vaccinated as of today, and talk about some of the good things and some struggles you have had. sec. mcdonough: great question. we are still, as the press corps knows, we're still getting all of our data together. as of this morning, i think we are at 91% of our health care professionals, the first two fulfill the mandate.
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91% have uploaded their data. about two weeks ago, no we first started reporting the data, we were at 70%. we are almost at 100%. that is one piece of data we have, another piece of data i am increasingly confident in his we first had a vaccine -- under that mandate, about 5.6% of our employees asked for a religious exception. i anticipate, although i don't know for sure, that we will have more than 5.6% this year as for religious exception. the exception for us is self-executing. which is to say, we are not going in to challenge the legitimacy of someone's claim of religious exception.
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i am slipping into a discussion of the hard things and easy things, difficult things, happy, sad, whatever. we may find ourselves, although we are not going to question legitimacy of anyone's declaration, we may find ourselves in a situation where for example, in an oncology department, intensive care unit, or what we call our long-term care facilities, community living centers, we may have so many people who have claimed a religious exception that we cannot safely provide care to our veterans in those situations, which in those cases, we reserve the right to deny religious excep on. lisa: are you experiencing any level of staffing shortage? sec. mcdonough: not yet, and we are doing all of the planning you would expect, but this is
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why i started with the recording of the data we have. because, we need the 100% data picture we can plan accordingly and make decisions accordingly, in the last point, we will make individualized determinations in our very extensively negotiated disciplinary process, the end of which, again, it's an individualized fact-based determination. throughout each of these steps, an employee still refuses to get vaccinated, they will be separated. lisa: should that person still be eligible to receive v.a. benefits? sec. mcdonough: that person as a former employee? lisa: you can take it over to military personnel. should they also be -- sec. mcdonough: i think each of
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the forces, each of the individual forces, army, navy, air force, marines, are going to make their determinations. we will then make determinations based off that. i think the bottom line of all of this, the goal of it, to get our personnel vaccinated. i talking about -- under no circumstances are we considering a mandate for our patients. we are talking about our personnel. lisa: the v.a. acknowledges that many veterans were exposed to smoke and fumes generated by pits in iraq, afghanistan and other areas where burning trash and other waste were common practice. what is the v.a. doing to provide care for the potentially
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long-term health effects which could include cancer, and other fatal diseases? sec. mcdonough: first of all, all vets returning from combat, please come enroll with us. you have access to care for a five-year window upon your return. please, when you come home, and rode with us and we will get you care. secondly, once you're outside the five-year window, we're looking at additional innovations to increase access to care. we overwhelmingly want our vets to come to us for care, we believe that's in our care actually have better outcomes and results. and so, our goal overwhelmingly is to get you in our care. if we can't do it under existing structures, i anticipate we will be in a position to ask congress
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for additional authority. first and foremost, if you have just been exposed, gotten out of the service, let's get you enrolled. lisa: the ig recommended modernizing reporting metrics so congress would be in a better position to assess the care that v.a. is providing to veterans. what steps has the v.a. taken to provide those reporting metrics? sec. mcdonough: great question. first of all, i want to underscore publicly here what i say privately, and readability -- reiterate what i say to the workforce. ensuring increased access and better outcomes on the provision of health care and benefits. the ig is a great partner for us. two, i think the ig team is right, transparency on our metrics improves our outcomes. across the board, we have a
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series of important metrics we provide to congress on a regular basis, some of those are briefed by the individuals you see in the room today, and this is an ongoing thing. it's not just a one and done, give you the data, we are up there all the time with subject matter experts. lisa: not to cut you off -- sec. mcdonough: the third is the most important metric is a signal from our vets. this is the trust scores. we attach an awful lot of importance to this, and if i have one more of my colleagues try to get our people who work on this to be hired by their agencies, i do know what i'm going to do. these are our people, we want them in our department, they give us the most important signal, what is the experience of veterans? last, there is a piece of data i think the ig is referring to as it relates to access times.
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this is something we have been working on with congress, with our stakeholders, among ourselves, with the ig, and if there is a better way to measure this, i want to make sure we provide it. we are looking at a variety of those, and if we can get to a better measurement, we will. the most important thing is transparency helps us, it doesn't hurt us. i think that is a great strength of v.a.. if there is more we can do, i will. lisa: but the ig said is the v.a. can compare the current mental health capacity with 1996 capacity, because of changes in diagnosis and treatment, data collection. on that specifically, what are you doing? sec. mcdonough: good question. i don't remember this in particular. i thought you might be going a different place, which is what we can't do, is compare wait times in the v.a. system with
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wait times in the community. oftentimes, we're in a situation where we have a vet who has an option to get the care in the community, i.e. from a private provider or us. we want to make sure that that can make a decision based on an apples to apples comparison, how many days until you get care in the system, how many days until you get care in the community. that is the data we think is important to develop, hold ourselves to account two, but help our vets informed their decision-making. lisa: i'm going to start taking questions that came in from our audience. sec. mcdonough: take the easy ones. lisa: courtney is a staff corresponded with the government executive, and she asks, how many employees heavy discipline so far for not complying with the vaccine mandate? do you have any concerns about staffing shortages? sec. mcdonough: we have begun
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our disciplinary process. if this all plays out, if the whole process plays out, it can take as many as three months from start of the process to the end of the process, which frankly, i am quite comfortable with. the goal is not to fire people. the goal is to get people vaccinated. the reason we want them vaccinated is because that is the best way we can ensure our veteran patients we have taken every step possible to maximize safety for them. so, the first step in that disciplinary process is counseling. that is why we believe we are seeing a much more rapid uptake in the reporting then we have in the first couple of weeks, we are at 91% now, 71 -- where answering questions about the vaccine, but also getting employees to upload their data. lisa: another question submitted
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before the luncheon, a whistleblowers complaint reveal problems with the administration of the g.i. bill. it wrongly denied vets money that should -- that they should have received for college. record-keeping errors also caused goldring to lose out on benefits they were entitled to. do you know how many veterans and their families were affected by this, and if so, what is the v.a. doing? sec. mcdonough: i am aware of regular oversight and reporting on our g.i. bill programming, i am not sure i know the specific the questioner is asking. please get in touch with us and our press team, we will get you a specific answer. i feel pretty good about the performance of our education team on increasing access to g.i. bill benefits, two other dr
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-- vocational training options. one last thing. because i know this is an issue that some folks have been asking about. the pandemic complemented -- complicated the exercise of the g.i. benefits, including the housing stipend. we have been working with congress, got some relief on that. the current relief expires next month. we are in conversation with congress about that. about increasing our forbearance on that. if you find yourself in that situation, please be in touch with congress and us to make sure we can continue to accommodate those challenges. lisa: another question from our audience. this one from the spokane
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review. been more than a year since the v.a. new electronics health system went live at the spokane v.a. medical center, and in a recent survey, 70% said problems with the new -- had worsened, and 62% had made them consider quitting. what do you think about that situation? sec. mcdonough: very difficult. it's a major priority for us, we are listening very closely to our personnel. because of the fact they are on the frontline of testing out this technology. we are hearing very clearly there are patient safety concerns, and addressing those as we find them. what i say is three things. one, to our colleagues in spokane, thank you very much for your forbearance, fear
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dedication to testing out this new capability, and importantly informing us on how to him with it. second, the lessons you are providing us will be implemented before we deploy to any further sites. third, if that kind of transparent reporting back and forth but i think will make v.a. and its electronic health records responsive first and foremost to the needs of our vets, and as importantly, to the needs of our clinicians. lisa: i going to go personal. my dad is a vet, air force. sec. mcdonough: thank you to your dad. lisa: he hates going to the veterans hospital. he compares it to being in line with cattle, people not moving,
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doctors not being good. this is right here in d.c. when you say that you are moving to make sure systems are improved, can you talk more specifically about what you are doing? are you sending teams in, are you conducting surveys, are you doing surprise visits? what is the v.a. doing specifically. sec. mcdonough: the most important thing to highlight is we want to hear from people, like veteran matthews. about his experience. this is why the visa is so important to us. it's a routine signals check with our veterans about the care they are getting, so we can be responsive, first and foremost to him and his needs. v signal is a survey, i think we
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are doing a good job employing it. secret shopper, surprise visits, ig oversight, congressional oversight, these are all parts of the answer. by no means to i believe we have gotten everything right. but, i do believe that we are becoming more nimble and responsive to important signals from our veterans, because at the end of the day we work for them, and that will be the sole determinant for our success. until your dad tells you that he likes going to the v.a. -- nobody likes going to the doctor. especially not me. that said, i don't want your dad to feel like he is on a cattle farm. i want your dad to feel like a hero, dedicated public servant
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and patriot that he is. lisa: as of now, retiring veterans do not give their service rating until after the last day of service. why not move that date to 30 to 45 days so they can better plan and have a better idea of what their income will be in retirement? sec. mcdonough: that's a good question, it has to do with our authorities on when we get access to and control of the vet. i think the bottom line is, something to secretary austen and i are spending a lot of time on, and to his great credit, he is spending time on, notwithstanding all of the challenges he has. i keep running into former mates of mine in the national security space will always say i wish when i was active, i spend more time think about the transition out. the fact is, no dod leader is rated on how dear vets do when they leave. they are rated on retention and
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readiness. as soon as you have someone who is leaving, you are not measured on how he or she does. we have to figure out, and beer have to spend a lot of time on this, among the many things on his agenda, secretary alston has insisted this be one of them. we have to figure out on how to increase our aperture, reaching further into the active force, there is reaching further into the veterans force. so we warm up that handoff and think it up, so vets can make plans about their future. that said, in the programming, as transitioning vets, don't miss the opportunity to press guys who work for mike in the transition program. we have people on tap every day
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that are there who can answer questions for you to try and give you some greater sense >> one final question -- that is not true. everybody knows i do not do a final question. we are staying here forever. president biden proposed an infrastructure plan $18 billion with upgrades to va hospital's medical centers. that was dropped on the final bill passed last week. do you see any other way of getting that money, and without it can those locations be upgraded? sec. mcdonough: good question. it was dropped from that bill and moved into the other package. the other package is pending in the house subject to cbo score. that number has been reduced to $5 billion, it was $18 billion. we think it is in a very important investment in infrastructure. in our case it is a down payment
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, a facility were our infra structure is on average, hospitals are 59 years old. we have to have more up-to-date hospitals. by the same token, because of the generosity of congress, we are able to make investments like the one we opened yesterday in worchester, massachusetts, a new state-of-the-art clinic co. located with the university of massachusetts school of medicine, a teaching hospital, which is unique opportunity for us at v.a., and our vets to get world-class care. the problem there is not funding, the problem is it took six years to get a relatively straightforward building located and built. we have to get better at that. there is too much red tape, too many hassles. some of that is our processes, and we have to get better at it.
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not only do we need more money, but we have to get better at investing in a more timely way the money that congress does give us. >> before we wrap up today's discussion, let me take a moment to thank the team leaders, and headliners members, the organizer of today's lunch, the club membership director, and the club executive director. i would also like to take this moment to let you know there is still time to sign up for the very first run for austin virtual 5k. the secretary mentioned are journalist who was detained, austin tice. we are running to raise awareness about austin. he is a marine combat veteran who has been unjustly detained since 2012.
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he has been unjustly detained in syria since 2012. you can sign up at -- please do that to support austin tice. my final question in the remaining five minutes -- actually i have two final questions. [laughter] i did not get a chance to ask about the homeless folks in los angeles. you mentioned that. talk about the priorities you have for homeless veterans, and the work you have done in the los angeles area for veterans there. sec. mcdonough: i was in l.a. four weeks ago now. we established two goals by the end of the year, the first was we would ensure everybody living
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on what is called veterans row, a homeless encampment for homeless veterans outside of west l.a.'s va medical center. that is an encampment where upwards of 50 veterans spend every night. we thought that was unacceptable. we announced a goal that everybody in that in camera -- in that encampment would be in a sustainable and transition homing by november 1. the next step is that we find and house in similar transitional or sustainable housing 500 additional veterans in l.a. county by the end of the year, meaning they would be in houses for the holidays. that is the least we should do. there are about 4000 veterans in l.a. we are in the process of establishing a by name manifest
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of those individuals so we can work through them for the requirements that they have to get them into housing, including addressing any issues that led to homelessness in the first instance. substance abuse, joblessness, involvement in the justice system. that is our goal by the end of the year. i hope all of the progress, the momentum we have built in l.a. leads to a re-sparking of the momentum across the country, which lagged from 2009-1017. reducing by half the number of homeless vets, i want us to get this job finished. i think we can do it. >> is there another area outside of los angeles? sec. mcdonough: we are about to make a series of announcements about what we call the
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supportive services for veteran families programming, and in cities and regions, counties, all across the country. this happens to be a problem in many cities. that will give you a sense of how we are prioritizing this across the country. by no means am i saying we are waiting to move in those other spots in the country, but it is really important in my view that we build up momentum in l.a. to demonstrate to the country that this is indeed a very fixable problem. >> just to prove i do like to ask fun questions, because i know i have been really hard on you. sec. mcdonough: tough. >> i understand you played a little football in college. two titles. played safety. who do you like right now, nfl? sec. mcdonough: vikings.
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>> if you are playing today in the nfl, who would your go to safety be? sec. mcdonough: oh gee. i think if i got a chance to name a safety, i would suit up myself and go out there. [laughter] [applause] >> our gratitude for your presence here today, secretary mcdonough. i want to present you with the coveted national press club mug. thank you for coming today. [applause] sec. mcdonough: thanks, everybody. >> thank you again, everybody. enjoy the day. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2021] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content
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