Feb 26, 2015

Leader McCarthy Speaks at Veterans Summit on 21st Century VA

Washington D.C. – House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (CA-23) spoke today at the Concerned Veterans of America summit on solutions to build a 21st Century VA that provides America’s veterans the proper care they deserve when returning home. Since 2006, McCarthy has made fighting for veterans in the Central Valley a top priority in office.

Watch online here.

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Below are excerpts of McCarthy’s vision for a 21st Century VA:

“So, if you ask me the principles moving forward—the VA system of the past was about bricks and mortars—the numbers of hospitals and clinics they can build. To me, that is wrong. It should be about the care of the veterans—the medical care.”

“Second to me, we should prioritize. If a veteran has a disability from the participation in service, that’s prioritization. Like anything else we have in government, we have a finite amount, so let’s prioritize how we make this care happen and how we’re able to help one another.”

“As I talked, why can’t we expand our pilot program? Why can’t we say that a veteran does not have to go in that van down through a canyon, get in another van to go down to Sepulveda and then to LA and maybe not meet their timeline to get the van back when they just drove by a doctor in their area and they could have got the same care of what they had? Let them be able to have a choice.”

“Key and last point—when I went to graduate school to get my MBA, there’s one philosophy I applied to everything I did: structure dictates behavior. You apply it to whatever you have in life and it will come true. Structure dictates behavior. The structure of the way we set up this room determines where you sat. So if we want to change the VA, but you keep the same structure, you’re going to get the same behavior at the end of the day. If we do not change the structure of the 1930s, we will not change the behavior in the VA, because it will dictate the behavior. So let’s not be afraid of taking a tradition of the past of why we created it, but apply it to a changing future.” 

McCarthy’s full remarks are below:

“Well thank you very much for a little time here and before I begin, I want to thank Chairman [Jeff] Miller. He has been remarkable all the way through on these challenges, and I’ve worked with him before he was even Chairman. I think the work he’s done and his ability to work across the aisle, making this not a partisan issue, but an issue that we want to get solved, and I thank him for all his work.

“I want you to have a little background and understanding of where I come from on this issue. When I first came to Congress, I have a rural district in California. So I’ve got places—you go up a canyon and we have veterans up there that have some local healthcare systems there but they can’t use it. They have to drive down a canyon into a VA clinic in Bakersfield but in Bakersfield the clinic only does certain items. So then they have to go to Sepulveda in LA and there’s a bus or a van that takes you down there, but if your appointment’s over, you might miss your ride back. And how many doctors and how many health care places have they skipped as they’re getting in this road to go down to Sepulveda? That’s where I came from at the very beginning when I was out running for office listening to these stories.

“But then I started to hear stories—and I got elected in 2006—started to hear stories that someone would tell me: “It’s taken me a year and I can’t get an appointment.” For something minor. And part of me thought—kind of questioned at the time—is that really true? But it started being repetitious.

“So my district was next to [Buck] McKeon[‘s] and we started communicating about the challenges, and I talked to other members and they said the same thing. So my first thought was, ‘Why don’t we do a GAO report so we have real facts behind it?’ This was in the minority, we did one of our first requests for a report.

“Everything that I thought could be wrong when the first report came back, it was worse than I imagined. And it was so sad that the direction of what drove me to ask for a report were just veterans in my district. You wonder about those across the country. That’s where I first came to it and then I took the recommendations from the GAO report and I put it into legislation, and I said, ‘Why don’t we implement them? Why’d we have the time for the report?’ And then that would kind of get pushed back upon. Why would we wait?

“And I’ve really come to a few key points. We talked about the editorial that I wrote in USA Today. And I start out that editorial with the 1930s. You know, in the 1930s in the summers, how did we cool ourselves? With electric fans because we didn’t have air conditioning, right? In the 1930s, when you wondered what was happening in the world, where did you get your news? You didn’t have television. You turned on a radio and heard somebody reporting. In the 1930s, when the VA system was created, they thought they should have some paper claims. They still do it the same way. But we don’t get our news from the radio anymore. We get it on our smart phones right when it happens. We don’t walk around in heat with a fan. We have air conditioning.  

“The modernization has to take place to solve it. And to me, there’s a couple key points that you have to do to make this happen.

“First and foremost, when I came through on the editorial, I said, as he read, you’ve got to fix the backlog, and you got to be honest about it. No matter whatever we do, I’m a firm believer in putting in metrics. And the first thing before you all start, no matter whatever we accomplish at the end of the day, we should all agree to certain principles: That we will be honest about wherever we are, and honest about wherever we want to get to. So if we’re successful, we’ll say yes and people will believe it, but if we fail, we’ll be honest that we haven’t achieved it yet and won’t hide from the fact. Because what I have found so many times when I went through trying to get answer on a VA back claim, they hide it or try to get a report to tell me something different. I want to be able to trust wherever we are. And everybody should [be able to] hold people accountable.

“When I watched the vets have to go down through a canyon, passing a hospital or a doctor, why should they? It should be about choice. It should be about the individual.

“And what Chairman Miller talked about: accountability. If you don’t have accountability, you’ll never have trust in the system. Well, those are the key points of the editorial. So if I believe in the metrics and I believe to say where we are, we’ve passed legislation now, we’re in the process, but why don’t we be honest and say where we are right now?

“We’re nowhere near fixing the claims of the backlog by the end of the year—nowhere near. So we shouldn’t put some false premise that it’s going to happen, but we should actually say what is our problem to getting there. And if it’s bad news, give us the bad news. Because how do we know how to correct anything? Don’t try to sugarcoat something.

“Chairman Miller talked about holding people accountable or letting people go. Don’t tell me you fired 300, 600 when the real number is 60, because it doesn’t help in the long run if Washington Post comes and gives you Pinocchio’s in the process. Because the public is not going to trust you.  If it’s difficult to fire someone, say the mandate I want to change, but I’ve only been able to do 60 but I’ve got to do 600. Because what will happen, the American public will be with us to make it happen faster.

“I am a firm believer when I talk about letting veterans have an option. Don’t create a structure where they make it more difficult to choose that option. Don’t make it harder in the process to go outside.

“And—I come from California, I see Silicon Valley—if we want to modernize everything, it’s not going to be from the top-down. It’s got to be from the bottom up. Because you know how I discovered the problem? The bottom up. It wasn’t the top that told me they were having a problem, even though they knew it. It was the individuals that couldn’t get in the system. So you’ve got to have a collective effort. That’s why I’m so excited about being here today with you. I’m excited about your report. We have to be collective in this nature, and we should not be afraid of being challenged or getting information or ideas from somewhere else.

“How is Silicon Valley so successful? They collaborate, bottom-up. They adapt. They take the tradition of the past, but they apply it to a changing future. That is the best recipe for the VA.

“So, if you ask me the principles moving forward—the VA system of the past was about bricks and mortars—the numbers of hospitals and clinics they can build. To me, that is wrong. It should be about the care of the veterans—the medical care. So that should mean, from my perspective and principle, it may not be in your hospital. I want the care for the veteran first. So all the money shouldn’t go to bricks and mortars. The first principle should be the medical care.

“Second to me, we should prioritize. If a veteran has a disability from the participation in service, that’s prioritization. Like anything else we have in government, we have a finite amount, so let’s prioritize how we make this care happen and how we’re able to help one another.

“As I talked, why can’t we expand our pilot program? Why can’t we say that a veteran does not have to go in that van down through a canyon, get in another van to go down to Sepulveda and then to LA and maybe not meet their timeline to get the van back when they just drove by a doctor in their area and they could have got the same care of what they had? Let them be able to have a choice. That may mean a different cost, but you know what, when veterans decide to defend all of us, they didn’t care about the cost of their own life. They did it. So we’ve got to be able to make that happen.

“Key and last point—when I went to graduate school to get my MBA, there’s one philosophy I applied to everything I did: structure dictates behavior. You apply it to whatever you have in life and it will come true. Structure dictates behavior. The structure of the way we set up this room determines where you sat. So if we want to change the VA, but you keep the same structure, you’re going to get the same behavior at the end of the day. If we do not change the structure of the 1930s, we will not change the behavior in the VA, because it will dictate the behavior. So let’s not be afraid of taking a tradition of the past of why we created it, but apply it to a changing future.

“Key, change the structures so the behavior changes. Two, prioritize the care. Three, open up the system. Four, it’s not about bricks and mortars, it’s about the medical care of the individual. Those are principles I think everybody can agree to. And the very last, measure every place we are with the honesty that everyone can trust.

“And I’ll be the first one to say as Majority Leader if you come and give me a report that you haven’t been able to achieve where you are and you tell me why the problem is and what’s the idea to solve it, I’ll salute you. But if you come and tell me a report that somehow you’ve done something and you think you’ve solved it and you lied—that behavior has got to stop. I would respect somebody more who stood before me and said you gave me this task, it’s not there, I’ve tried, and this is why I’m failing. I would trust that individual. That’s where I want to be able to go, because that would be the first step in solving the overall problem.

“Thank you for your help. I look forward to continue to working with you. Remember, this is collaborative, this is from the bottom-up, and the number one goal of everybody in it is the medical care of the veterans. Thank you very much and God Bless.”