Reasons & Remarks:
Someone Who Cares

Reprinted from PN May 2001
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"If I can make a difference for America's veterans, then my rewards will far outweigh any sacrifice I may make. And I do intend to make a difference."

This quote is from a man who truly cares about America's veterans and has the track record to prove it. That man is the recently appointed (and confirmed unanimously by the Senate) VA secretary, Anthony J. Principiveteran's veteran, close friend and confidant of PVA, and, I'm proud to say, a personal friend. I've known Tony for well over a decade when he served as Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee counsel and VA deputy secretary during President George H. W. Bush's administration.

If anyone can assure that VA lives up to its responsibility to provide quality healthcare for veterans with spinal-cord injury (SCI), it's Tony Principi. For the lonely veteran lying in a bed isolated out in the hinterlands as well as for veterans lined up in big cities' bustling, crowded medical facilities, relief is on the way!

Following are excerpts from Tony Principi's statement during his January 18 confirmation hearing before the United States Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs:

"The Department of Veterans Affairs is at a critical juncture. Many veterans have lost faith in VA's ability to fairly and promptly decide their claims for benefits. Not without reason. It takes too long to decide a claim. And the error rate remains too high.

"I will commission a broad-based and inclusive task force to conduct [an] examination. Its charter will be narrow. I am not interested in abstract theories of veterans' benefits.

"As secretary, my bottom line will be access to quality healthcare for veterans. This will be particularly true for veterans who do not have other options, either because they need the specialized services provided by VA or because their circumstances call on them to look to VA as their only healthcare provider.

"I believe a broad-based, inclusive, tightly focused and short-fused task force, drawing on the commitment and knowledge of the [veterans' service organizations, or VSOs], forward-looking VA employees, and VA's partners in healthcare delivery can help me deliver on that promise by identifying problems and proposing solutions.

"New technology offers VA new opportunities. It also imposes great challenges. Technology is often expensive and is almost always complex. Effective application of complex technology to already complex processes, such as VA's, frequently requires rethinking and rebuilding from the ground up. We can't just "pave the cow paths" and expect to improve service.

"Information technology can offer a means to break down the bureaucratic barriers that interfere with quick and efficient service to veterans, as well as the walls dividing VA from her sister departments in the federal government and, totally unacceptably to me, barriers within VA itself.

"I do not now have a solution to VA?s information technology problems. I do know that I intend to find one. And that in my search for a solution I will not be constrained by 'how we have always done it.' That path is a dead end. It has not worked.

"I will not come before you and claim to have in my hip pocket an instant solution to all the problems faced by VA and by the veterans VA serves. If the solutions were easy, they would have been implemented long ago. And while I am blessed with many friends in the veterans community and can draw on my experience on the Hill, in the department, and on the Congressional Commission on Veterans and Service Members Transition, I am also aware that much has changed over the last eight years.

"I appear before you today to acknowledge my personal debt to the millions of Americans who have served our nation in uniform in the past and to the millions who stand watch today on the ramparts of freedom.

"My debt to them can be satisfied only by a commitment to work with you, and with our partners in the VSOs, as well as the department's employees, to identify and implement the solutions necessary to ensure that veterans obtain the benefits and healthcare they have earned."


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Reasons & Remarks:
Someone Who Cares


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