“Call me Bob, I’m Bob,” the secretary said, drawing a pyramid on the back of a placard that explained his reform plan. He wrote “veterans” at the top and put himself at the bottom.
To that end, we at the Federal Eye asked for his personal cellphone number, and he gave it out. In front of a roomful of reporters. On live television. And we published it.
Since then, he has received about 900 phone calls or text messages, and “we probably have solved about 25 to 30 percent of the issues,” he said. Some had trouble with their benefits, others with wait times.
“The responses I get from the veterans, where we’ve solved their issue, are quite fulfilling,” he said at a 90-minute meeting last week to a dozen Veterans Service Organizations.
“But the point is, we’ve got to design this organization so it doesn’t depend on my cellphone.”
When dialed, his cellphone is often busy. But he does still often answer his phone.
On the eve of Veterans Day, McDonald said that “the largest restructuring in the department’s history is under way” and that at least 35 people are facing disciplinary action, with as many as 1,000 to follow.
The action follows a nationwide scandal in the summer over thousands of veterans waiting for health care. The problems involved falsification of scheduling records to hide treatment delays and retaliation against whistleblowers.
“It’s not a scam or a gimmick giving out my number,” he said in a recent interview over his phone. “We are committed to serving the veteran.”
More than 2.5 million Americans have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since Sept. 11, the longest period of warfare in the country’s history.
Veterans say that the VA is a black hole of bureaucracy, with confusing Web sites and a time consuming patient-care system.
While McDonald attempts to fix it, they still have their leader’s cellphone digits.