The VA Pulls Talent from the DoD Health System

The VA Medical Center in Washington, D.C. (VA photo)
The VA Medical Center in Washington, D.C. (VA photo)

This article by Rene Campos originally appeared on the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) website.

Within the span of a couple of days, two flagship Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities have announced that two new leaders -- both recently retired service members -- will run the Washington, D.C., VA Medical Center and the northern Chicago Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center (FHCC).

This is great news, and it should comfort military and veteran beneficiaries to know the chief directors of these medical facilities personally understand their service and sacrifice.

MOAA previously reported that retired Army Col. Michael Heimall took the reins at the Washington, D.C., VA Medical Center on Oct. 14 to deliver care to more than 21,000 veterans. Heimall is no stranger to caring for military service members and veterans, having served 30 years in Army medicine and as the director of Walter Reed National Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. He retired from the position in 2017.

The medical center in Washington, D.C., has suffered from a string of leadership and systemic issues that have made it the focus of a number of inspector general investigations. The investigations documented persistent and pervasive problems placing patients at risk and landed the center on the VA's list of "high risk" facilities with critically low quality and safety ratings.

Further north, the Lovell Federal Health Care Center welcomed its new director, Dr. Robert Buckley, on Oct. 15. He'll serve veterans, active-duty service members, and military families, and oversee the medical readiness of more than 40,000 Navy recruits a year.

Buckley's last assignment as a Navy captain was as deputy director and commanding officer of Lovell FHCC, where he retired in 2016. He then served as chief of staff at the Jesse Brown Veterans Health Care System, caring for veterans in and around Chicago before becoming director at Lovell.

MOAA recognizes the efforts of the VA and Defense Department in recent years to retain talented medical professionals as both of their health systems undergo massive reforms. The VA is fortunate to benefit from such impressive military talent, and MOAA believes these directors will be critical in advancing numerous joint initiatives, such as implementing a joint electronic health record that will be interoperable between the two agencies.

These personnel moves come on the heels of a VA workforce survey, which revealed 62 percent of its more than 375,000 employees are willing to recommend the VA as a good place to work and think the VA has made progress in areas such as job satisfaction and satisfaction with the organization.

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie has made customer satisfaction a top priority not only for veterans, but employees.

"VA employees are talented and committed professionals who rally behind a great mission," he said. "Veterans deserve a VA workforce that demonstrates pride in its work that results in strong customer service, and the survey shows we are making progress."

Hiring talented professionals like Heimall and Buckley will go a long way in helping the VA improve customer satisfaction and addressing systemic issues in the coming months and years as the VA and DoD continue to transform and modernize their health systems to meet the needs of service members and veterans and their families.

Retired Navy Cmdr. Rene Campos is the director for Veteran Health Care and Wounded Warrior Issues at the Military Officers Association of America.

This article, The VA Pulls Talent from the DoD Health System, originally appeared on the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) website. MOAA is the nation's largest and most influential association of military officers.

-- The opinions expressed in this op-ed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of If you would like to submit your own commentary, please send your article to for consideration.

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