Murkowski: Veterans Are People, not Numbers

Senator Questions VA Secretary on Bureaucracy Says Focus on Human Element Could Improve Care and Retention

Senator Lisa Murkowski today reminded U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald that while he works to cut the backlog of cases and make the care system more efficient, not to lose sight of the impact of personal care with patients.  Given the VA’s nationwide goal of fixing its difficulties in retaining staff, she told McDonald that such a human focus would improve the overall work environment at VA centers nationwide.

That exchange was part of a conversation in the Senate Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee, where Murkowski also asked about the enormous new service region that includes Alaska but spans three time zones and thousands of miles.

(Murkowski discusses wide-ranging impacts of solely data driven care – Click to watch.)

 “We talk a lot about reducing the backlog and I know it’s all about numbers, but to the veteran at the end of the day they want to feel heard and understood when receiving care,” said Murkowski.  “I’m concerned that as much as you are focused on numbers, you’re losing sight of the importance of customer service. Once you forget that, that means the customer satisfaction of the veteran, but also the VA employee who accomplishes something and feels like they have fixed a vet’s problem.  If the employee feels like they’re just processing numbers and churning through problems, the difficulty in recruiting continues and the backlog continues.”

McDonald agreed with Murkowski saying “This is why we do what we do – it’s not the stock options in the government – we’ve got to keep the visceral empathy in what we do.”


(Murkowski: Alaska’s VA service region seems too big to deliver quality care – Click to watch.)

 Earlier in the hearing, Murkowski also stressed her concern about the new bloated ‘service region’ that Alaska has been included within, saying:

 “We had a chance to talk about this new regional alignment, and I have to say I’m concerned.  As I look at these divisions, I worry that it’s just getting bigger.  The region that Alaska is in reminds me of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals – and I’ve been fighting to break that up into smaller pieces for a long time.  When you have one service area that covers thousands of miles and three time zones, I’m concerned the regional offices will be able to provide the level of care that our veterans expect and deserve.”