Veterans Day should be a call to action for all Americans to serve those who have served, VA Secretary Denis McDonough said Nov. 9 during a National Press Club event in Washington, D.C.
While acknowledging Veterans Day is a day to honor Veterans and their sacrifice, McDonough said it’s a day to fulfill a solemn obligation.
“For most Americans listening today, it can mean something as simple as reaching out to the Vets in their lives and lending a hand,” the secretary said. “And at VA, it means providing Veterans with world-class health care; with the benefits they have earned and so rightly deserve; and with a lasting resting place that is a tribute to their service. The point is that we all have a part to play, no matter who we are or what position we hold.”
He asked everyone to renew their commitment to serving Veterans and serving them well, adding, “because that’s our most sacred responsibility, on this Veterans Day and every day.”
Next, McDonough reported that VA is “laser-focused” on ending Veterans’ homelessness. One moment earlier this summer stood out to him, at a homeless Vets vaccination event outside VA headquarters in Washington, D.C., when a Veteran came to get his shot. The Veteran wasn’t wearing shoes, so he received both a vaccine and a new pair of shoes from the Veterans Canteen Service staff.
“On the one hand, the story is heartwarming – a job well done,” he said. “On the other, it’s heartbreaking. That man served our country. He should have shoes on his feet. He should have a roof over his head. In fact, there should be no such thing as a homeless Veteran. Not here. Not in the greatest country in the world. So I assure you: We will do whatever it takes to get this country’s 40,000 homeless Veterans into homes – and to keep them there.”
McDonough also acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic has been “devastating for all of us.” While most people are focusing on getting back to normal, VA will not go back to pre-pandemic ways of doing business.
“But at VA, there is no going back to the old normal because the work we’ve done to respond to the pandemic has forged us into a stronger and better department for our nation’s Veterans,” he said. “Tele-health, tele-appeals for your claims, the Veterans Legacy Memorial, and our new VA mobile app are allowing us to meet Vets where they want, when they want, in unprecedented ways. Outpatient trust scores for Vets in our outpatient care rose to 90% this year – which, in my mind, should be the floor not the ceiling. We’ve seen more patients and held more benefits hearings than in any previous year in VA history – a result of our goal to make sure Vets get their care and benefits on time, every time.”
That new normal also extends to mental health services. VA’s focus on these services will continue to keep Veterans going during the pandemic. In 2021, Veterans have attended 5.6 million tele-mental health sessions, more than double that of 2020. VA will continue to provide world-class service like this and the secretary will keep fighting for Veterans.
“On this Veterans Day and every day, I promise to fight like hell for the Vets who have fought for us,” he added.
Watch the event