The cornerstone of the MyVA transformation is improving VA’s relationship with Veterans. A central piece to Secretary Bob McDonald’s MyVa initiative is a commitment to locally-led, community-driven, MyVA Communities.
The inspiration for the MyVA Communities movement is San Diego’s One VA Community Advocacy Board. Established more than 20 years ago, the board asked local VA administrators to join and regularly meet with a group of Veterans and community organizations to discuss local issues. Now it serves as the model for local communities to create boards across the nation. More than 80 local boards are now a part of the MyVA Communities network.
If Veterans are lost in navigating the disability compensation claims process, struggle to make an appointment at a local facility, or need help to find services provided by community organizations, they can get their questions and concerns heard through local Community Veterans Engagement Boards (CVEB) public forums. These forums and other CVEB meetings are a great place for Veterans to voice questions and work together with leaders to resolve local problems. They create trusted relationships between Veterans and the community leaders who serve them.
The Alabama CVEB, MyVA Operation Entrust, provides a great example for how this relationship can work directly to meet the Veteran’s needs and come up with a local solution. At a public forum in Birmingham, Alabama, a visually impaired elderly Veteran expressed concern around not being able to vote in private by means of accommodation. The CVEB worked with one of their board members, a local County Commissioner and Birmingham VA’s Blind Rehab Program to ensure visually impaired Veterans were aware of multiple accommodations to allow private voting.
In September, VA CVEBs from around the country, including San Diego, came to VA’s central office in Washington, D.C. They participated in the first MyVA Communities E-Summit, a virtual community networking forum, to share with others around the country the best ways to establish CVEBs and relationships with local VA leaders. San Diego co-chair, Ron Stark, a Navy Veteran, said CVEBs provide important outlets for Veterans to meet the local community, administrators and service providers to get answers to their questions or express their concerns directly to those that can make a difference. Co-chair, John Meyer, emphasized VA’s active participation helps keep the goal of service delivery and Veteran engagement at the forefront of VA’s work.
Their sentiments echo Secretary McDonald’s vision for spreading the CVEB model throughout the country, “A vital part of VA transformation is better working with strategic partners and that’s exactly what MyVA Communities help us do, bring together local community leaders that want to help VA improve and provide services to Veterans.”
The ultimate goal is for CVEBs to contribute to improving the Veteran experience, regardless of how a community chooses to organize or establish their board. That was exactly the goal of the E-Summit, to help others feel empowered to engage with their own communities and learn how they can adopt their own model. The E-summit provided numerous stories and examples of how these collaborations and partnerships are making the lives of Veterans in their community better every day.
Erin Mullally is a Class of 2016 Presidential Management Fellow at the Department of Veterans Affairs. She graduated with a Master of Public Policy degree from the McCourt School of Public Public Policy at Georgetown University where she served as Editor-in-Chief of the Georgetown Public Policy Review. Prior to graduate school, she spent three years working for the City of Kansas City, Missouri, serving as a communications and public affairs aide to Mayor Sylvester “Sly” James, Jr.
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