Dr. Richard A. Stone, the acting Under Secretary for Health at the Veterans Health Administration, bids farewell.
Today, I am completing a journey that I began on the 24th of April, 1991, when I raised my right hand and placed my left hand on my family Bible. On that day I swore my intent to give up everything to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. Every day I have served, both in and out of uniform, has been more fulfilling than I could have ever imagined.
Over these last 30 years, I have had some extraordinary jobs, including leading soldiers in combat. None have been more challenging and more rewarding than serving as the leader of the Veterans Health Administration.
When I arrived at VHA on July 16th, 2018, three years ago today, I discussed with our regional health care leaders – who happened to be in town at a meeting – three areas of transformation that we would focus on throughout my tenure: Restoring the trust of the American people and the Veterans that VHA serves, and becoming a learning organization that modernizes its systems – including the implementation of a commercial, off-the-shelf, electronic medical record system.
Little did I know that these areas of focus would become the pillars of our response to a once-in-a-100-year, worldwide, public health pandemic. This crisis has challenged every one of the world’s health systems. I am so very proud of the people at VHA who have led the Nation’s response to the pandemic in so many geographic areas. This response has been expressed in our employees’ unwavering commitment to our four missions of delivering health care to Veterans, expanding education and research, and to be the emergency backstop to America’s civilian health delivery systems. This response was completed by our employees while they placed themselves at risk to protect and care for our Veteran heroes and all Americans we were summoned to care for. I have no doubt that the actions of our employees saved countless lives, and we must never forget to honor and remember the lives of the 146 of our fellow VHA employees who were lost in the fight against COVID-19.
Today, I complete my portion of this sacred mission. Starting today, I assume my role as a combat-experienced Veteran receiving my care from VHA. I leave with intense gratitude for every one of our more than 73,000 volunteers, 127,000 professional trainees, and our 306,000 full-time health professionals and support staff whose focus every day is to ensure success in every area of our work.
This Nation and its Veterans will always depend on VHA’s employees and their continued pursuit of excellence, innovation and extraordinary compassion. Only through excellence, innovation and compassion will they fulfill the ongoing health care needs for each of us who depend on VHA for the care of the illnesses and wounds that we sustained in service to this great Nation.
I remain steadfastly confident in VHA’s mission. From the bottom of my heart and on behalf of every American Veteran, I give thanks to the employees for what they do each and every day. God Bless them and may he continue to bless the United States of America.