Thank you, Reverend Kenworthy, for the opening prayer. Those gathered here will detect not only the speech of a strong spiritual leader, but the manner of a Veteran as well.
Ms. Tillery, that was a beautiful rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.
And Jonah Czerwinski, thank you for emcee-ing today.
As I was preparing my remarks, I asked Michele—my closest advisor—how long a speech I should give. She reminded me that that the Lord's Prayer has 71 words; the Gettysburg Address, 271; and the Ten Commandments, 297. She also reminded me that the shortest speech I ever gave had the greatest impact on my life—and yet consisted of only two words, "I Will."
This speech will be, by choice, a lot longer. Frankly, I didn't have time or inclination to write a short one.
When I came here four years ago, I came with a dream: to serve the people that I had served with in the military and to serve the families, like mine, who counted on the VA to care for their loved ones. I was prepared, but like all great opportunities, filled with a bit of trepidation: The size of VA—320,000 people working hard all across the country in over a thousand locations; The fact that we were at war on two fronts; The very special mission of VA—our legacy and its central role in keeping the promise of a Nation to those "who have borne the battle."
Well, that feeling of awe immediately grabbed me when I entered my office, and looked out the window at that magnificent view of the White House, the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial and, across the Potomac, Arlington National Cemetery—places of duty and of service; symbols of hope and remembrance. I knew I was in the right place, for a great mission, with a dedicated team, and with a great leader—Ric Shinseki.
It's hard to say farewell to men and women who were strangers on Day One, and who became close friends and respected colleagues in such a brief time. We have done so much together, making a positive difference in the lives of so many Veterans and their families. We have done something unambiguously good in life: we have helped our fellow man. It's been an exciting and rewarding time for me, and I have everyone here and across VA to thank for your professionalism, for your dedication to teaching me what I needed to know to do my job, and for your persistence in execution.
Today I want to summarize our accomplishments together, say thank you to the people that made them happen and offer a few words of encouragement. So, I will endeavor to keep this as short as possible.
We have accomplished a lot. Here is a sample:
And then there is the work at VBA to take on the tremendous challenge of claims processing and drive forward with new ideas, new leadership, and positive results. Among our achievements, we:
All this was done while the other business lines in VBA:
At the same time we conducted more than 300 Congressional hearings, wrote over 6,000 letters to Members of Congress, and issued over 700 news releases.
We have challenged ourselves to "advance on many fronts," to place and keep our attention on our people, on mission results, and the capabilities that will prepare us for the future. And we have been guided by values that require us to deserve then desire. We have worked with a view to keeping Veterans as the focus of our activities, avoiding intramural battles, and conveying a single minded focus to our employees that we can and must be better.
All of these accomplishments would not be possible without the hard work, sacrifice, and tenacity of a wonderful VA team.
These leaders of large and complex operating units are the backbone of our ability to serve Veterans. But they couldn't do it alone.
These leaders supported their line colleagues through relentless communication, planning and investment. Together they have moved a large and complex organization to a more integrated operating model.
And then there is the team of senior advisors in the Office of the Secretary who have tremendous responsibility to "get the argument right" and commensurate access to senior leadership, but who work largely behind the scenes
For John Gingrich and Joe Riojas—VA's Chiefs of Staff, past and present—for their wise counsel, and for setting the standards for dedication and service to a person and to our mission. I had never met a person who was as smart, hard-working, and skilled in the staff process until I met John Gingrich.
Of all the Veterans who work at VA, none has served with greater effectiveness, with more vision, or more inspirationally than has our Secretary, Ric Shinseki. Secretary Shinseki is a role model and a mentor for all privileged to serve beside him. He is deeply committed to advancing this large, complex, and diverse organization in service of Veterans.
All of his energies, vast experience, and wisdom gained through years of the most challenging leadership positions have been single-mindedly focused on changing the VA to meet the needs of current and future Veterans. He has demonstrated the moral courage to make hard decisions in favor of Veterans.
Ric, I will be forever honored by your mentorship and friendship and I am grateful to you for all the coaching, mentoring, and teaching that went on between us. And to Patty, you have gained the admiration and affection of the entire department through your unfailing presence and unflagging support for all of us and for your husband. Yours is a beautiful partnership.
To my friends Kurt Campbell, James Adams and Chris Hoenig. To my children Alec, Aidan and Victoria, there were a lot of late nights and in the midst of it all, a lot of fun. If I could say one thing to you about the last four years for Mom and Dad: This is what service looks like—in the faces of the people around you and the results we achieved. To my Mom, who at age 83, still hasn't missed a major event. And finally for Michele for your steadfast love; the best part of today is that at the end of it, I get to go home with you.
What a great place, what a great mission, what wonderful people. As the poet Mary Oliver said: "Oh, to love what is lovely and will not last! What a task to ask of anything or anyone, yet it is not ours by the century, or by the year, but by the hours."
We have accomplished much together. And we have much to be grateful for. We have a mission that matters.
Every day, miracles occur of healing: walking again, feeling again, overcoming adversity, overcoming addiction, caring for the dying, like my Dad.
Keep finding ways to support the resilient Veterans who want to be healthy and productive—who want to be all they can be in their changed lives.
We have a tradition of excellence and of judging our programs and their outcomes by the effect they have on the people who use them.
You are passionate about serving Veterans. You have leadership that understands that to improve we must continue to invest in the people who deliver the services upon whom all of us depend. Much of our work together, planning and executing these past four years, has been about working more effectively together in a performance management model that cuts across silos. Establish habits of excellence. Make new ones. Raise up the next generation. Take care of each other along the way.
Keep the faith.
We are going through a crisis in confidence in civilian government. There are unjust charges in the press using disrespectful and abusive language. There is also the relentless focus on errors rather than the balance of positive outcomes.
The temptation for VA is to turn inward. But like the military we have to reach out, to demonstrate by performance, integrity, hard work and service that we are deserving of public trust, ready to translate a distant, complex and confusing bureaucracy into the services that citizens value in service of the mission that was conferred on us 147 years ago by Lincoln.
At close of business today, I am once again a private citizen: honored to have served; a little older, a little wiser; proud of what we have accomplished; prouder still of all of you who are at the heart of this collective enterprise we call public service.
God bless you all and the Veterans we have served together.