"One of the most important things that I need to do in Washington is to be your advocate for the resources to make this system function and function well," said Anthony Principi, secretary, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, addressing the fourth annual VA Psychology Leadership Conference.

"Our goal is providing the best possible care," he said, underscoring that psychologists' work in serving the psychological needs of today's veterans is "one of the finest aspects of the health care that we provide in the VA."

The conference, held June 1-2 in Las Vegas, is co-sponsored by the APA Practice Directorate and the Association of VA Psychologist Leaders (AVAPL) each year to give VA psychologists an opportunity to develop advocacy strategies that promote the need for quality psychological services for the nation's veterans and to enhance psychology leadership opportunities in the VA health system. AVAPL is a nonprofit organization of VA psychologists who work to provide care of the highest quality to veterans.

Principi said he is "committed to maintaining our leadership role in mental health and the other specialized programs that we offer," adding that "today's VA is not your father's VA--we are not a sleepy backwater medical system that uninformed critics love to take cheap shots at. We are indeed a very excellent health-care system."

Because of the rising costs of health care, budgetary increases are a priority for the VA, which is the government's second-largest agency, says Principi.

A fundamental issue that need always be addressed, he said, is maintaining quality of care and maximizing veterans' access to the VA's specialized programs while at the same time allocating resources efficiently and shaping infrastructure "to meet the demands of 21st-century care."

Another important issue for the VA, Principi says, is further trimming the backlog of claims--an issue that President George W. Bush asks him about each time he sees Principi, he said.

Other keynote speakers at the AVAPL conference included:

  • APA President Norine G. Johnson, PhD, on "Psychology 2001: health care, education, training and expanding opportunities for VA psychology."

  • Past-president Pat DeLeon, PhD, JD, on "Advocacy from APA's perspective."

  • Russ Newman, PhD, JD, APA's executive director for practice, on "Advocacy: the big picture."

  • Debra Benton, a business consultant, on "Developing the art of leadership."