VA secretary presses Congress on funding for modernization

Robert McDonald said his agency can be modernized but not without the help of Congress.

Robert McDonald

VA Secretary Robert McDonald said that without congressional support, veterans will be left with a department that might not be able to meet their growing needs.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald said his agency can be modernized but not without the help of Congress.

"If Congress doesn't act on these transformational changes, VA will not be able to complete its transformation and veterans will have to settle for a VA that is not as responsive to their needs," McDonald said in a speech at the Brookings Institution on June 20.

He urged lawmakers to approve legislation to fund the agency soon because the "window of opportunity is closing fast."

He's pushing for the Senate to pass the Veterans First Act before the summer recess. He was critical of a House bill that would appropriate $1.5 billion less than the previous fiscal year's enacted levels, saying the reduction would "hurt veterans."

McDonald also announced that beginning July 5, veterans will be able to enroll in health care coverage online or over the phone. A mobile app for scheduling, cancelling or making changes to current appointments will be available later this year. He said thousands of veterans have tested the app and "loved it."

He added that the VA's other priorities include improving the veteran experience, updating the VA's IT infrastructure and changing the culture within the organization.

McDonald told FCW that CIO LaVerne Council is assembling a new team and "taking a look at these things one by one, and we are making sure we can get them done."

He acknowledged that the VA still has a long way to go, and appropriate funding is essential. "We need the funds...to care for the veterans," he said. "To the degree we can demonstrate progress through improving levels of veteran satisfaction and... increased access, I think lawmakers will give us the help."

He told the audience at Brookings that the VA was catching up on a backlog of disability claims, and "the idea that VA can't be fixed or we are not fixing it is just nonsense."

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