How VA is using feedback to improve Veterans Experience

Veterans Signals enables real time service recovery and performance improvement

Graphic design of Sec. Wilkie on Veterans Signals

Veterans Signals

Before I joined the VA, and even before hearing about VA’s Patient Experience framework – I realized employee experience is what drives customer experience. It’s no surprise the top rated companies to work for are also leading in customer satisfaction. Through my time as an infantryman in the 82nd Airborne Division, and several years of retail management – teamwork was the key. If my teams were given the right information and empowered, we could accomplish anything.

When I started as the Veterans Experience Officer at the Madison, Wisconsin VA Medical Center, I applied the same principals. We have so many dedicated and passionate employees, but the problem often seemed to be not knowing the right information. What are our Veterans, our customers, telling us? How do we use that feedback to shape our process improvements?

The answer for us came from the VA Veterans Experience Office’s Veterans Signals customer experience survey. Veterans Signals, which was rolled out nationally in late 2017, asks Veterans after their appointment to provide feedback and rate the VA on trust, ease, empathy, and effectiveness.

Veterans Signals allows each service such as pharmacy, imaging, or even location such as a Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) to see in real time the feedback that their Veterans have given them. This meant that each team could review their performance routinely, and make quick corrective actions based on that feedback. They had access to the right information.

Most feedback VA receives from Veterans Signals are complimentary, which is also a key element to the employee experience. When compliments come in, and they name a VA employee – we are able to give the deserving team member a “shout out,” to recognize them for their exceptional customer service.

The data and insights available in Veterans Signals allowed us to implemented a five-point customer service program focusing on open communication, employee recognition, WECARE leadership rounding, team-building, and trust. All of these are aimed at enhancing the employee experience, empowering them to improve the overall Veterans experience.

Rockford IL OPC

Rockford, Illinois VA Outpatient Clinic

Those five-points, created an uplifting, empowered employee experience at our CBOCs, allowing them to proactively enhance the patient experience for our Veterans. Encouraged by the success of this program, we are working to implement this strategy at all of our community locations. Since the inception of this program we have seen a marked rise in our Veterans Experience, leading to a 6% decrease in the use of our Patient Advocates between July 1, 2018 and January 31, 2019.  The Madison VAMC’s trust score continues to rise from last year, and is currently 92.6%. This places us at 7th in the nation, but first in our regional Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN 12).

The use of the “right information” isn’t exclusive to the Madison VAMC though. Through Veterans Signals, VA reported last year that 92% of all VA medical centers improved in their trust score.

Veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors can be proud of the changes happening all across the VA. Enabled by the right customer experience data, tools, technology, and engagement efforts – VA is making strides when it comes to Secretary Wilkie’s prime directive of customer service.


J Rathkamp

Justin Rathkamp is the Veterans Experience Officer for the Madison, Wisconsin VAMC. He is a U.S. Army Veteran, serving with the 82nd Airborne Division on active duty, and in the U.S. Army Reserve with the Army Reserves Drill Sergeant School. He holds a B.S. in Health Information Management and Technology from the University of Wisconsin and a B.A. in Economics from Marquette University.


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  1. Richard Kent    

    The VA is not better. I put in my claim in 2001 and I finally got 40 %. I am going back for agent orange this time and from ischemic heart disease ( heart slips all the time) ,called myocardial ischemia disease. I’ve had 2 heart stints, nervous are shot, take many meds for my nerves, but being the VA, they will do nothing. COPD, have to take alot of pain medication. From 2001 to 2019 is not a good record for the VA.

  2. Brian P Smith    

    Discharged in 1986 Service Connected 10% for a seizure disorder. At this time I didn’t know the law. According to Va law/ and my current attorney I was misrated. I went back in 1988 and they did nothing. So much for duty to assist. In the last couple of years they gave me 10% on a hernia that was service connected at 0% in 1986 at discharge. Even though the Military diagnosised Seizure issues and blood sugar highs nothing additional was done back then. I would think that there would be some consideration for the length this has been going on. Looks like there’s 200,000 cases ahead of me waiting for a judge. I understand there are many vets that also have the same concerns. I hope they are not getting evicted and have $$$$ in debt. I hope my next address won’t be old blue truck, orange blossom trail, Orlando Florida.

  3. Mitzie S Walker    

    Could we have a therapy pool in some if the Va treatment facilities..?? It would help so much.
    Water excises etc

  4. Pat Dwyer    

    I’ve been in the NorCal VA system for 10 years, rated 100% 8 years ago due to Agent Orange. Oakland, Martinez, Mare Island, San Francisco, Palo Alto, Sacramento: great people, very efficient, very proficient. I could not have asked for better care… and that’s after over 300 appointments. The only glitch was the VBA/Benefits office that took 20 months to grant me 100%, but my first “100% check” covered all 20 months that I waited, and now my monthly 100% check goes into my checking account automatically on the 1st of every month. I am very sorry to hear about the trouble that some other Veterans are having: we deserve better; fortunately for me, I am well cared for and thankful for the respect, warmth and humor that I experience on my visits, along with the good medicine and procedures.

  5. Donald A. Johnson    

    The St. Cloud VA in Minnesota has been good to me. I would recommend it to anyone. I have heard some bad things from people, but does every Dr. and Medical treatment center never make mistakes. The St. Cloud VA has responded to me each time I have called and set up appointments with good results. I am sorry some Vets. have not had great help when they have used the VA for their medical problems.

  6. Billy S. Collins    

    I have been dealing with the VA for 26 years to get my due compensation which I only begin to get last year (2018), I have missed diagnosed for 24 of those years. It wasn’t until I was able to see a couple of civilian doctors before the VA finally got my diagnoses right, and even the ones they got right I have still been denied compensation on other disabilities, now they are proposing to reduce my 100% disability for prostate cancer tied to agent orange which was diagnosed and treated less than two years ago. I often wonder if the VA is there to help or hurt the veteran? Right now and for many years I have not been a happy camper with the services provided by the VA.

  7. Eddie Smith    

    I have a recommendation for the VA across the board. Stop using subjective and misleading language in all VA Media, and publications just to make the topic sound great, positive spin, especially when it comes to VA support for the family. This issue causes Servicemembers and Veterans to think something that is not true, and they file claims and applications, and call VA, they clog up the system on misleading guidance.

  8. James R Laing    

    I had an appointment with a Dr Fox at the Battle Creek VA Hospital on 3-19-2019. I have NEVER been treated by anyone in this manner ! I came to get a shot of Cortisone in both shoulders for pain. I have bone on bone in both and it is very painful !! It seemed that this so called Dr only wanted to argue ! I have been getting these shots every 3-months from a Dr Choe. Unfortunately he retired and Dr Fox was a new Dr. It seemed that he only wanted to pass me onward to something or someone else. I was TOTALLY disgusted and still in Pain !! He was a TOTAL JERK !

  9. joseph ratowski    

    the va web site is a disaster it is no good a 5th grader could design something better va fix the web site for us vets

  10. DONNA MARTIN    

    In the past I did not have any issues with the VA, in Denver, CO. However, since they finally moved into the new facility, things are very different. I went for a pulled shoulder, and was told all I needed was physical therapy and meds. The student Doctor assessed and prescribed, then the Doctor came in and confirmed all. I hurt my shoulder in October, and when it wasn’t better by December, I went in. Still an issue, don’t know if it’s worth trying again. I had been experiencing increasingly worse back spasms. Finally after a few months I went in. Yet another student Doctor diagnosed muscular issues, prescribed some meds with physical therapy. All was confirmed by the Doctor. I tried to explain the degree of pain I was in during a back spasm, but they did not listen, said no need for any x-rays or MRI. Within days I ended up in a civilian hospital and got they same answer. When I returned the next day via ambulance, the ER Doctor apologized, remembering me from the previous day, and ordered an MRI. Next day I was having surgery for a Thoracic Intradural Extramedullary Tumor. It probably would have been cheaper for the VA had they done the MRI and surgery. Maybe I was better off not having them do it.

  11. Jesse A. Johnson    

    VA outpatient facility in Dothan, Alabama is a disaster. Combined it with the mental health facility. No parking and from what I can hear only one MD. Takes two to three weeks for a new pain medicine prescription (required each month) to be written and refilled. No response from e mails to Representative Martha Roby.

  12. mark A heasley    

    bad surgeries , locked up from hersay, went to lawer he said cant sue va. they cant locke us up on heresay and when were locked up they cant lie.

  13. Michael Buchinski    

    Finally, both my claims were decided favorably after 5/7 years. Now, I’m closing in on 6 months and still haven’t received compensation. Yet, the VA website is “proud” to state that after a decision is made, payment should be received within 15 days. A LIE!

    Is the VA any better now? You be the Judge….

    1. Jacob Johnson    

      Went to the VA in Daytona Beach and went thru a full physical and I mean an all day testing and the conclusion that I was healthy except for a few items due to age. The following week I went to an outside Dr and she sent me to the Hospital in Ormond Beach and they admitted me immediately for a triple bypass.Why did the V.A. not pick up on this so now I have quit going to the VA unless I don’t mind getting killed by those idiots. The administrator there was as worthless as a dead skunk in the middle of the road. It was a waste of time just talking to her.

  14. Brendalee Ables    

    I guess they need to check out the Phoenix VA. It’s been five years since the huge investigation and it hasn’t gotten any better. The runaround.

  15. Kevin Fuit    

    Can someone please reply to me because I’m having issues every time I try signing into the VA website, because I’m having serious issues with my memory problems, but I just need to know what avenue to take in order to look at my records and to schedule an appointment, I’ve already have the higher rate in order to do all that but two many passwords. If someone could send me the steps to follow would be great.

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