VA Secretary R. James Nicholson was interviewed by reporter Marsha L. Melnichak of the Le Mars Daily Sentinel earlier this year.
Q: What is your goal as VA secretary?
A: To lead the Department of Veterans Affairs forward, not only into the 21st century; to be not just the largest but the best deliverer of health care, benefit and memorial services possible.
Q: What are some advantages offered by VA?
A: Over half of the physicians in the United States have trained at the VA. There are three Nobel Laureates out of the VA health system. The pacemaker and the CAT scan were developed in the VA health system. Some people say, 'It's not your father's VA.'
Q: How state-of-the-art is VA care?
A: VA hospitals today are really on the cutting edge, and they're really leading the pack. RAND Corp. [a think tank] said patients in the health care system operated by VA received significantly-their word-significantly better care than private sector patients.
Q: How do you see VA's mission?
A: That really is transcendent. Part of our mission is to see that those veterans who need us the most are cared for by our department and our services, and that we're there for them. Because the people of the United States-our society-wants that and the veterans have charged us with [this responsibility].
Q: How vital is that mission?
A: The main point is that we have this fabulous, large organization that we now spend about $70 billion [projected in 2006] a year on to look after our veterans. It bespeaks the importance; it bespeaks the value. We have values as Americans: freedom and justice and equality. Another value is our veterans, and I have the wonderful privilege of heading up this agency responsible for administering services to them.
Q: How expansive are VA services?
A: This is the largest integrated health care …