VA secretary asks for feedback from ASU student veterans

Secretary of Veterans Affairs speaking with ASU student

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald toured the Pat Tillman Veterans Center and met with a group of student veterans at Arizona State University's Tempe campus March 12 to gauge how well his agency was doing at improving service.

ASU has just over 3,720 student veterans, making up 5.2 percent of the student population. The secretary listened to firsthand accounts of the students’ varied experiences with the VA.

“We have work to do,” he said. “But we think we have the right plan and the right mission as we set the course for-long term improvements in the VA.”

McDonald is scheduled to join President Obama tomorrow in a visit to the Phoenix VA medical center to check on improvements there after shortcomings at that hospital launched a nationwide scrutiny of VA health care nearly a year ago.

He was nominated by President Obama to serve as the eighth Secretary of Veterans Affairs and was confirmed by the Senate on July 29, 2014. He was brought in to lead the organization following what he refers to as the “largest crisis in the history of the department.”

His improvement plan is focused on five areas: giving veterans a great VA experience, taking care of employees, improving internal services, changing the culture and creating strategic partners.

“We’ve got to earn trust one veteran at a time,” said McDonald, who is an Army veteran himself and a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

The VA has made strides in some areas, including patient care. VA medical facilities get higher customer satisfaction ratings than private sector counterparts but the problem is getting the access, said McDonald.

The ASU student veterans highlighted areas of improvement during the hour-long session with the secretary. But they also praised the support received from the VA.

“I have seen the difference,” said Shemmyla Green, an Army veteran and ASU legal studies graduate student. “And I appreciate the secretary coming here today to talk to us about their plans and demonstrate transparency.”

Green had problems with VA centers in other states but praised the VA in Arizona after they provided her with a much needed surgery.

Andy Mandwee, a Navy veteran and ASU undergraduate anthropology major, is also grateful of the support he has received from the VA.

“I’ve used the education benefits and I’ve had no problems,” he said.

The VA education benefits are among the most popular with veterans and one of the most impactful, said McDonald.

“Education is the greatest thing going,” said McDonald. “It is the most important benefit to transform your life and that of your family.”

The VA is the second largest federal government agency, with 340,000 employees and a current budget of $163.6 billion.

Prior to assuming his role as VA secretary, McDonald was chairman, president and chief executive officer of The Procter & Gamble Company.