featured graphic for Veterans Affairs during COVID-19

New VA Secretary Denis McDonough releases message at start of tenure

As I begin my tenure at the Department of Veterans Affairs, I want to take a moment to speak directly to Veterans and other VA stakeholders and share my thoughts on VA’s mission and the road ahead.

It is the honor of my lifetime to join the VA workforce in serving Veterans, their families, caregivers and survivors. We live in peace and security today because of the sacrifices of generations of Veterans. My career has afforded me a privilege available to relatively few Americans: to see up close the excellence of our Armed Forces in the field on my regular visits to Afghanistan and Iraq; to witness the strength and resilience of our wounded warriors at Walter Reed; and to experience the unimaginable grief of military families there at Dover when our fallen heroes come home one final time. From that I have a passion to fight relentlessly every day to ensure that VA serves our Veterans as well as they have served America.

Throughout those experiences I’ve also been deeply impressed by the dedication and excellence of VA employees. I look forward to being a true partner with the men and women of VA – dedicated, highly-skilled professionals, many Veterans themselves – Veterans serving Veterans who deserve our profound respect and support.

At this moment when our country must come together, caring for you – our country’s Veterans and your families – is a mission that can unite us all.

The president has called on every American to embrace our responsibility to support our Veterans and their families. So this administration will work with other federal departments and agencies, with Veterans service organizations, with the National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs (NASDVA), and with other state and local organizations, both public and private, who have the best interests of Veterans and their families at heart. We must work together to serve all Veterans.

President Biden has defined our country’s most sacred obligation as preparing and equipping the troops we send into harm’s way and then caring for them and their families when they return. Here’s how we at VA will fulfill our part of that sacred obligation.

Every decision I make will be determined by a simple principle, that it increases Veterans’ access to care and benefits and improves outcomes for them.

Our highest priorities will be VA’s three core responsibilities: providing all our Veterans timely, world-class health care; ensuring they and their families have access to the benefits they’ve earned; and honoring our Veterans with a final resting place that’s a lasting tribute to their service.

In addition, we’ll do everything in our power to help Veterans get through this pandemic; help them build civilian lives through education and jobs worthy of their skills and service; ensure that VA welcomes all Veterans, including women, Veterans of color and LGBTQ Veterans; work to eliminate Veterans’ homelessness and reduce suicide; and keep faith with their families and caregivers.

Assessments of our efforts will be measured by the outcomes we generate for Veterans and by listening to what Veterans have to say about their experiences. We will be strengthened by the advice and support of Veterans service organizations and by hearing from our partners and respected organizations who share our mission of improving Veterans’ lives.

We’re going to focus on living our core VA I-CARE values in all our interactions. Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect and Excellence – these values will define who we are, our culture, and how we care for Veterans and other VA colleagues.

This means that all VA patients, staff, their families, caregivers, survivors, visitors and advocates must feel safe in a workplace free of harassment and discrimination. I will not accept discrimination, harassment or assault at any level or at any facility within VA. We will provide a safe, inclusive environment for Veterans and VA employees. Simultaneously, in VHA and VBA, we will redouble our efforts to care for Veterans who are survivors of military sexual trauma, ensuring they can all count on VA’s support.

We can achieve our mission only by embracing the incredible diversity that defines our Veteran population and all of America, leveraging everyone’s talents and passions. I commit to these principles, and I will make sure that my senior leadership team reflects and embeds them in everything we do.

We are fortunate to have a strong ally and leader in the White House. President Biden gave me a clear mission – to be a fierce, staunch advocate for Veterans and their families. His marching order to me is clear – fight like hell for Veterans. And we are going to fight like hell to give our Veterans and their families the benefits, services, respect and dignity they deserve.

I fully embrace this mission, and I know the VA workforce does, too.

May God bless our troops, our Veterans, their families, caregivers and survivors – and, as a nation, may we always give them our very best.

This statement was released by Denis McDonough, United States Department of Veterans Affairs.