Red Coat Ambassadors make Southern Illinois VA a ‘happy place’


Red Coat Ambassadors wear a highly visible red coat or vest and greet Veterans and escort visitors and family members. They provide a personal, yet standardized VA experience that includes assistance with navigation, helpful information and the necessary support to make their visit to VA not only successful, but also pleasant.

The Marion VA Medical Center in Southern Illinois utilized the Red Coat Ambassador Toolkit from VA’s Veterans Experience Office to restructure their volunteer ambassador program last year.

Voluntary Service Chief Maria Buehler said the toolkit provides, “a more consistent patient experience and welcoming familiarity from VA to VA for Veterans.”

Marion VA is fortunate to have several dedicated volunteers and Red Coat Ambassadors. 

This summer was the first year for student Red Coat Ambassadors at the Marion VA in Illinois.

This summer was the first year for student Red Coat Ambassadors at the Marion VA in Illinois.

New for Marion this summer was the addition of the Student Red Coat Ambassador program. Requiring more training than the typical summer youth volunteer program, kids from the community dedicated additional time to learning how to greet Veterans and visitors and provide excellent customer service. Feedback from both Veterans and students exceeded expectations.

One of Marion’s first Red Coat Ambassadors, under the new program started in December of 2017 is Jena Cutsinger. She works most days, between 6-8 hours and says the VA is her “happy place.”

Jena is an energetic and smiling face to greet and escort visitors and patients, offer information and directions, provide a listening ear and help find solutions to concerns.

Marion, Illinois VA Voluntary Service Chief Maria Buehler, who has more than 25 years of experience working with volunteers, says, “Voluntary Service has a unique role to play. As we place volunteers throughout our sites of care, they have the ability to bring encouragement and provide a positive customer experience while also gaining a sense of joy and satisfaction from serving. They want Veterans to know someone cares and will listen.”

What’s next for Red Coats in Marion, Illinois? Expansion to the Community Based Outpatient Clinics in the Marion catchment area, which spans three states. While quite the logistical challenge, the vision is to have Red Coats handing out a warm welcome and assistance in all locations.

Interested in becoming a volunteer or Red Coat Ambassador for VA? You can start online at: to find your nearest VA facility and Voluntary Service Office.


Beth Lamb

Beth Lamb has been a member of VA’s Veterans Experience Office since January 2017. She previously held Public Affairs positions for several Veterans Health Administration facilities and currently lives in Missouri with her family.