In my first full day as Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, I asked to tour the DC VA Medical Center so I could see first-hand how our healthcare professionals are caring for our nation’s Veterans during this pandemic.
I came away from that visit both inspired and impressed. From the medical support assistants working tirelessly to schedule COVID vaccinations to the pharmacists trying to get the maximum number of doses from every vial to the providers putting “shots in arms,” their dedication to excellence and their care for their Veterans was readily apparent at every turn.
It was particularly moving to hear that providers who have been working in the COVID-19 ward are now being afforded the opportunity to work in the vaccine clinic as a form of respite and renewal. Caring for COVID-19 inpatients in such an intense setting can be draining for the provider due to the severity of symptoms their patients face as well as the risk to their own lives. Giving vaccinations affords them the vital opportunity to “see the light at the end of the tunnel” after a long hard year.
My mother was a nurse and I’m acutely aware of the importance of what they bring to healthcare teams. So, seeing them in action and hearing from nurses about the joy and hopefulness that infuses the vaccination clinic brought a smile to my face. I’m so proud of all the hard-working VA employees whose dedication to mission has led to the department vaccinating over one million people, and I encourage Veterans to sign up and stay informed about how to get a vaccination.
Another important part of my visit was seeing the environment of care for women Veterans. I’ve made clear my commitment to ensuring VA is a welcoming place for all Veterans, especially survivors of Military Sexual Trauma.
During this visit, I got a tour of the Women’s Health Pavilion from Woman Veterans Program Manager Gale Bell, a Veteran herself and passionate supporter of women Veteran patients. I was able to see first-hand where VA is making tremendous strides in ensuring that goal is currently met, as well as where VA has room for improvement in the future.
While there, I also took the VA White Ribbon Pledge to stop violence against others and commit to never committing, excusing, or staying silent about sexual harassment, sexual assault, or domestic violence. I urge all VA leaders who have not yet taken the pledge to do so promptly.
My entire leadership team is expected to lead by example through thoughts, words, and actions, as well as to ensure all employees live up to these principles and follow VA policies related to equal opportunity, diversity and inclusion, and sexual harassment.
The dedicated professionals I met deepened my pride at having the opportunity to lead the department during this time of great challenges and opportunities. They are highly skilled professionals—many of them Veterans themselves.
I am honored and humbled to be their partner and to join them all in serving and advocating for all our nation’s Veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors.
The Honorable Denis McDonough is the 11th Secretary of Veterans Affairs.