The Trenches at Home: How to Fix the Broken VA
With the confirmation of former Procter & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald as VA secretary, the beleaguered department stands to undergo a complete overhaul. While there are sure to be differences between how Sec. McDonald would handle fixing a private organization rather than a public one, the hope remains that his private sector experience and the atmosphere his leadership creates results in a quantum leap forward.
Beyond creating the same kind of useless executive rhetoric that arguably sunk Sec. Shinseki, what practical things can McDonald and his staff do to save the VA?
Change the Culture
There seems to be a culture of secrecy within the VA. Whistleblowers face retribution and shortcomings in the system – such as an inability to schedule veterans for timely appointments – are covered up rather than addressed. The “new” VA should reward exposing its failings and doubly reward those who figure out how to fix it.
Despite Sec. McDonald’s private sector bona fides, the new VA should continue to hire Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, including for key leadership roles. This generation of veterans is most invested in seeing the VA thrive. They also wouldn’t under-prioritize the care of aging veterans, both out of respect and because, with a little luck, our generation will be using those same services decades from now.
Where whistleblowers and reformers should be protected, the incompetent should also have to answer for their crimes (metaphorical and, in some cases, literal). Congress should pass the bill brought up in the Senate by Florida Republican Marco Rubio that gives the VA Secretary power to fire or promote at all levels of the agency.
Integrate into the Larger Medical Community
The VA should continue to innovate and make the agency an attractive place to work for medical professionals, but it should also form partnerships with the large hospital systems in its communities. If the Pittsburgh VA Hospital is overtaxed, there are three other major hospitals less than a five minute drive away.
Yet, while these may seem like small suggestions, they are each major challenges for the agency especially in today’s polarized climate. These changes will take money and, despite the scope of the recent scandal, there are some still hesitant to adequately fund the agency.