New Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald has ordered town hall meetings at all department health and benefits facilities by the end of September, in an effort to better understand veterans' complaints about services.
In a message to staff Tuesday, McDonald said the meetings are designed to gather feedback from veterans and their families, but will also be open to lawmakers, veterans groups and other local individuals who work with the facilities.
"Caring for veterans is a calling, and our first commitment is to provide veterans and their families the timely, quality care and benefits they have earned and deserve through their service to our nation," McDonald said in a statement. "It is critical that we continue to listen and learn directly from those who use our system."
McDonald, sworn in last week as the eighth confirmed secretary in the department's 25-year history, has promised lawmakers he would move quickly to help restore public trust in VA operations following months of scandals about lengthy wait times, questionable record keeping and management practices designed to protect employee bonuses.
Veterans groups have already held dozens of similar town hall meetings at cities across the country, hearing frustration from veterans faced with poor care but also some success stories that VA officials hope to build on.
Local facility managers will announce details of their individual town hall plans, but department officials hope that together they help bring to light more areas for improvement and restart lines of communication with veterans.
In a message to VA employees last week, McDonald praised the department's work but also acknowledged that "the days ahead will not be easy" as officials try to repair its operations and image.
"I want to hear your ideas for improving the department, and I will not tolerate those who stifle initiative, seek to punish people who raise legitimate concerns or report problems, or lack integrity in word or deed," he said. "Trust is essential in everything we do."