In my experience, chief executive officers (CEO) of major corporations rise through the ranks by one of two paths: operations or sales.
When a board of directors hires a CEO with an operations background, they are looking for someone who can make CHANGE HAPPEN. This type of CEO has a sense of urgency, will roll-up his/her sleeves and get to work solving problems – both internal to the organization and with dissatisfied customers. These individuals thrive in an environment that wants to transform itself – repair, restore, renew – and succeed.
When they hire a CEO with sales background they are looking for someone who will “schmooze” the customers and bring the board good news. To succeed this type of CEO needs great products and first rate staff to do the real work of customer and operational management. These individuals thrive in an environment that values mediocrity and entitlement – an environment where slow and steady is viewed as success.
In selecting Robert McDonald as Secretary of Veterans Affairs President Obama chose sales when an operational leader was needed.
LA’s Homeless Vets Don’t Need a Pat on the Back
McDonald embellished the truth about his own military record to include service in Special Forces while engaging with an anonymous homeless Los Angeles veteran. He was reverting to years of Procter and Gamble behavior “softening the customer” for the Big Sale.
The Secretary, in his Brooks Brothers shirt and with a trail of cameras, claimed he was trying to make the veteran “feel comfortable” – to “empathize with him”. We don’t know the veteran’s name – so we can’t ask him — but I am sure he enjoyed the Secretary’s momentary effort to build a rapport.
This veteran does not need empathy and handshakes. He needs a roof over his head, three square meals and a sense of physical and fiscal security so that he can rebuild his life. What would make this anonymous veteran comfortable is not to spend another hungry night on the cold and dangerous streets of LA.
That’s the minimum a “grateful nation” promised him in return for his service.
The Secretary was in Los Angeles to announce settlement of an ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) lawsuit against the VA over the misuse of the nearly 400 acre site deeded to the government in 1888 expressly to establish a permanent home for veterans in need.
Today there are an estimated 3700 to 6000 veterans sleeping on the streets of Los Angeles — depending on who’s counting.
The Secretary promised to deliver a PLAN by October to reclaim veteran housing on the site VA left dormant since the 1960s. He pointed to the need for seismic and safety upgrades as well as basic remodeling. But he didn’t promise one single nail to execute the plan.
Promise Nails not More Paper Work
True, earthquake is an ever present risk in California. But the odds of a veteran being hurt by falling debris in pending seismic retrofit VA housing are infinitesimal compared to odds of his being injured, murdered, contracting a serious illness or starving while spending another year or two sleeping on the streets.
The Secretary doesn’t just need to “stay involved”. He needs to own this! Throw out the bureaucratic rule book and MAKE IT HAPPEN for these veterans.
Can’t use the buildings without repairs? Call the Department of Defense. DoD can erect a temporary military encampment for the spring and summer months.
A tent with a planked wooden floor, communal shower, a mess hall tent and daily sick call would be the “Ritz” compared to sleeping on the streets.
The US military housed tens of thousands of Haitians after the earthquake using just this approach. Don’t we owe just as much human dignity to the brave veterans damaged in our defense?
Hand-up Not a Hand-out
Once safely, if temporarily, housed — VA could put these veterans to work doing the work necessary to re-open the abandoned housing units on the site.
VA could partner with Habitat for Humanity, and veteran service organizations, that have significant experience teaching construction skills and self-help. These veterans could experience, again, pride in their work. That is a vital step toward restoring their dignity.
Along with a roof, restoring dignity is the first step in rebuilding their lives.