New VA Secretary Robert McDonald’s Plan to Help Disabled Veterans

Can the new Secretary help disabled veterans during his honeymoon period?

In July, the Senate unanimously approved Robert McDonald as the new Secretary of the Veterans’ Affairs (“VA”). Since then, Secretary McDonald has used his military and corporate credentials to begin restructuring the VA, which has been plagued, infamously, with systemic failures leading to inadequate healthcare for disabled veterans.

In early September, Secretary McDonald laid out his 90-day plan to increase efficiency and improve the care that the department provides. He stated that he wants this new vision in place by Veterans Day on November 11 of this year. Generally, the plan seeks to rebuild the VA’s trust with veterans and the American public.

He stated that he and his team are going to actively look for and eliminate work that does not benefit veterans. “If we have work that doesn’t add value to the veteran, we’ll stop doing it and redeploy those assets to veterans,” he asserted. Furthermore, Secretary McDonald stated that he has a team in place that will meet every other week to make sure that the VA implements Congress’s recent VA reform bill both quickly and effectively.

To improve efficiency, the VA recently introduced new, standardized disability claims forms. These forms will make it easier for disabled veterans and their survivors to clearly state what benefits they’re seeking from the VA and provide the information that the VA needs in order to process the claim. As Secretary McDonald stated, “Our veterans and survivors will know, at the outset…what is needed.” In the past, a veteran did not have to use a specific form to request compensation or other benefits from the VA; often, this lack of uniformity caused delays due to missing information. The new process will be consistent with nearly all other government application processes (such as applying for a driver’s license, Social Security, or an income tax refund).

In addition to his plans to streamline the agency, Mr. McDonald plans to hire more employees to account for the VA’s significant overflow problem. The Secretary’s plan includes hiring more than 28,000 new employees. However, McDonald remained realistic, affirming that these hirings and changes would not occur overnight, but were, rather, a “multi-year journey.”

Secretary McDonald also addressed disciplinary action against those responsible for data manipulation at the VA’s Phoenix facility. McDonald stated that, although his team has created proposed disciplinary action against three senior executive employees, he cannot take definitive action until the investigations conclude. He mentioned this by saying that “We are as impatient as you are, but while investigations are going on, we are not allowed to take definitive action.”

During his speech, Mr. McDonald shared stories from his recent nationwide VA-facilities tour; although he heard many positive accounts, he also heard some horror stories surrounding problems he promised to fix. The Secretary also promised to make the department more transparent. He vowed to remove the hierarchy surrounding the agency; instead, disabled veterans would once again become top priority. As a sign of good faith, Secretary McDonald even gave out his cell-phone number.

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The attorneys at the Rocky Mountain Disability Law Group focus their practice on protecting military veterans and their rights. If you are a disabled veteran with questions about how recent VA developments affect you, contact the Rocky Mountain Disability Law Group today.

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