“The toughest job you’ll ever love.” That was the slogan for the Peace Corps for a long time. Now that they no longer use it, if I may, I’d like to claim it for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
I work at the brand new Veterans medical center in New Orleans for VA’s Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System, SLVHCS for short. I am a Technical Career Field Intern, training as a Public Affairs Specialist. This is my first position with VA, and as an Army Veteran, I couldn’t wait to get here to help make a difference in my fellow Veterans’ lives.
I had been working at SLVHCS for about four months when my department heard our facility had been chosen as the filming location for a national VA commercial—what an honor! The goal of the commercial is to build awareness of the many dedicated and talented health care providers who take care of our nation’s Veterans and VA Medical Centers across the country, and encourage others to consider bringing their skills to VA. I had the honor of recruiting and scheduling our health care providers to “star in” the spot. My first big lesson: doctors, nurses and supporting care teams have patients counting on them and can’t just pop out to shoot a scene.
The location scouting took place a week before filming began. It was my job to meet with the commercial crew and show them around the 1.6 million square foot facility. Every day, our group grew, with people making detailed notes, taking pictures and drawing maps of the areas where we would film. Everyone was bubbling with excitement and eager to start filming. If I thought the preceding 10-hour days had been long and crazy, the real work was about to begin.
We filmed the commercial over three days, with the help of VA employees and dozens of people from the film crew. My part in the filming was not in front of the camera, but behind it, making sure the people I had scheduled for certain scenes were present and on time. As one scene was filming, I was on to the next, checking on the talent, the location we would be moving to, as well as any possible roadblocks we might encounter. If the crew worked 12-hour days, I worked 15.
This gets back to my desire to borrow the Peace Corps’ old tagline. While I was exhausted with the vast amount of both large and tiny details I had to keep in mind each day, I have never felt happier, or luckier, to be a part of something in my whole professional post-Army career. In this undertaking, I learned my brand new facility like the back of my hand. I met more of my coworkers and our patients in a week than I’d normally have met in a year, and I built solid professional relationships with people I might have not even bumped into otherwise. I learned the value of my department in a way that many public affairs folks never get to, outside of a major incident or highly-publicized VIP visit.
Most of all, I found that I love working for VA, even during those exhausting days. I love sharing news and information with Veterans about their health care and other benefits they’ve earned. I love meeting Veterans from all five services walking through the halls of our facility on their way to appointments or the cafeteria, and I enjoy swapping stories of our service to our country. It’s very important to me that other Veterans know about the high level of care and commitment our VA medical center offers, and it’s my job, and my pleasure, to make sure they do.
Jamie Dannen is a Public Affairs Specialist working out of our Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System and is a Veteran of the U.S. Army.
To view VA’s TV spot and learn more about open positions, visit VACareers.va.gov/makethedifference