Inside StoryMon-Fri 6:30pm ET/3:30pm PT
Andrew Harrar / Bloomberg / Getty Images

Can a new Veterans Affairs chief turn around the agency?

Robert McDonald has promised big changes at the VA, but the department’s problems may prove difficult to overcome

After spending the morning paying respect to those who died in the line of duty, Vice President Joe Biden spoke to a sea of military families about honoring those still with us: our veterans.

“You are the most trusted and tested Americans amongst us,” he said. “Not only are you the heart and soul, but you are the spine of this country.”

Veterans and how they are cared for were recurring themes at a number of ceremonies on Tuesday. The topic is still a raw one, after revelations in April of catastrophic problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs, with dozens of veterans dying while on waiting lists to see doctors. 

A federal investigation uncovered falsified waiting lists and complicated VA systems that led to dysfunction. The inspector general’s report found veterans often waiting more than 400 days for care.

“We literally had people dying on wait lists, and time is of the essence,” said Alex Nicholson of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “Urgency is key.”

‘We literally had people dying on wait lists, and time is of the essence. Urgency is key.’

Alex Nicholson

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

The scandal led to the resignation of VA secretary, Gen. Eric Shinseki, who was in the hot seat before Congress in May. “Any allegation, any adverse incident like this makes me mad as hell,” he said.

Robert McDonald, a former Procter and Gamble CEO, is Shinseki’s newly appointed successor. This week McDonald announced that major changes are coming to the department. He delved deeper into his plan on Tuesday.

He is promising better training, more accountability and a structural overhaul, including disciplinary actions, that are meant to make the VA more customer-oriented for veterans and their families.

McDonald is calling the plan MyVA. “MyVA will combine functions, enhancing efficiency and access to health care,” he said.

‘MyVA will combine functions, enhancing efficiency and access to health care.’

Robert McDonald

secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs

The task for McDonald is huge, and he is seeking a lot more help. He has announced that his goal is to hire 28,000 new medical professionals, including 2,500 more mental health specialists. He said that as many as 1,000 VA employees could be terminated. That will not be easy; he said each firing will need the approval of a judge.

There are nearly 22 million veterans living in the U.S.; 2.5 million of them served in Afghanistan or Iraq.

Will McDonald’s plan be enough to bring about the changes the VA needs?

Will he be able to fire and hire people as he would like?

What are the unique needs of post-9/11 veterans?

We consulted our on-air panel of experts for the Inside Story.

Related News

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter