While campaigning for president in October 1960, John F. Kennedy spoke to a crowd of students at the University of Michigan, challenging them to give two years of their lives to serve others. Since he delivered that call to duty more than 50 years ago, nearly 220,000 Americans have served in the Peace Corps helping those in need around the world.
This past year, I answered when the call came to serve, accepting the role of undersecretary for health at the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department. Like so many others before me who responded when their country needed them, I found that in doing so, you receive far more than you give. It has been an extraordinarily meaningful experience to join an organization whose purpose is so noble and whose cause is so great. I am privileged to lead over 300,000 committed professionals who are serving our veterans, the men and women who served our country in uniform.
The recent challenges in the VA healthcare system have received much attention. Among the most daunting is the shortage of healthcare professionals in the Veterans Health Administration. We have nearly 41,000 vacancies—close to 1 in 6 positions are unfilled. With so many vacant positions, it's difficult to fix our access issues and continue to make the progress needed in other areas.
To effectively tackle the issues facing the VHA, we must start by identifying and hiring more of the right leaders. We currently have executive openings at approximately 25% of our medical centers and regional networks.
The VA seeks experienced healthcare executives to join the talented team of leaders already serving there to put in place programs that will attract the best and brightest. We need healthcare leaders who know how to recruit and retain great employees. We need caring professionals who want to make a positive difference each day leading our dedicated healthcare workforce and enabling improvements across the spectrum of care.
That's why I am issuing a challenge to American healthcare leaders: Come join us at an organization with the noblest mission in the federal government.
Help us fill our leadership vacancies—exceptional leaders who will bring their expertise, experience and industry best practices to accelerate change and ensure the VA remains a leader in American medicine.
Besides the amazing work we do every day at more than 1,500 sites caring for America's Veterans, VA research has contributed greatly to improving the lives of veterans and other Americans alike.
The first successful liver transplants were performed in the VA system. VA researchers developed the implantable cardiac pacemaker and created the nicotine patch. We have made major advances in prosthetics, spinal cord injury, and traumatic brain injury. Also, the VA has affiliations with more than 1,800 educational institutions and trains 120,000 healthcare professionals each year. More than 70% of all doctors in the U.S. have received training in the VA healthcare system. We all need and benefit from a strong VA.
American medicine is changing, and the VA continues to evolve as an integrated healthcare system, modernizing processes and capabilities to put the needs of veterans first. We are laying the foundation for a new course for VA healthcare. It's called the New Veterans Choice Program and it envisions working with the public and private sectors in an integrated way to better serve veterans. In the plan we are now presenting to Congress, we propose a healthcare system that coordinates care for veterans using what the VA does best but not duplicating what the private sector does best. To implement this plan and realize our vision, we need the help of those with expertise from the private sector who will work closely with those already in the VA.
The VA needs you, veterans need you, and your country needs you. We are looking for experienced healthcare leaders who are willing to serve those who have served all of us so well. I can assure you it will be the most rewarding job you've ever had.
If you are interested in accepting our VA Leadership Challenge, contact us at [email protected]