Customer service THE prime directive for all VA employees

The way we treat Veterans today is the reason they will choose VA tomorrow



There has been big changes in the way Veterans and their families are welcomed at VA health care systems across the country.

Last year at the American Legion’s 100th National Convention, Secretary Wilkie pledged, “The VA is about serving veterans. Our responsibility is to serve you well and honorably. My prime directive is customer service.” In May of 2019, VA codified customer experience into its core values in VA’s Code of Federal Regulations.

Employees and volunteers have stepped up to make it easier for Veterans to navigate to their health care appointment. VA is shifting the culture to put Veterans and their families at the center of every process. VA’s Veterans Experience Office is supporting VA medical centers to deliver an excellent patient experience, every time.

VA facilities across the country have implemented several patient experience programs to ensure every employee is trained and focused on providing our Nation’s Heroes with the care they need in a consistently exceptional manner.

Two Red Coat Ambassadors stand ready by the main entrance of a VA hospital to welcome guests and help them get to where they need to be.

Two Red Coat Ambassadors stand ready by the main entrance of a VA hospital to welcome guests and help them get to where they need to be.                                                               

  • Red Coat Ambassadors: These ambassadors welcome Veterans and their families at medical center entrances with a friendly greeting and direct them to their destination
  • Own the Moment: This customer experience workshop encourages VA staff to connect with, understand, and help guide Veterans through the moments that matter on their VA journey
  • WE-CARE Rounding: Medical Center Leaders and Administrators make “rounds,” speaking directly with staff and visitors about the care and services they received
  • Standard Phone Greeting: Creates a uniform way to greet callers, letting them know in a clear, friendly way who they have reached

Recently, Steve Gabris from VA’s national Veterans Experience Office, spoke with WFXR News Kianna Price on Living Local in Salem, Virginia about what VA is doing nationally and at Salem VA Medical Center to improve the patient experience at VA health care systems.

In February 2019, hundreds of VA employees came together in Arlington, Virginia, to share how they are making the Veteran Experience better, and help shape the future of patient experience at the first annual VA Patient Experience Symposium. This was the first gathering of its kind at VA and demonstrates a significant milestone in the future of focus at VA.

Learn how you can become a Red Coat Ambassador by contacting your local VA hospital’s Voluntary Services Office. Find your local facility at https://www.va.gov/find-locations/ .

Author

Brett Robbins

Brett Robbins is an Army Veteran serving as a communications specialist detailed to Department of Veterans Affairs’ Veterans Experience Office.

Comments

  1. Jim Clement    

    Another great idea from the VA that sounds good on paper, yet like so many others – – – most likely will not play out too well in the real world. Particularly when we have VA Mental Health Clinics such as North Central Federal Clinic that cancel appointments after the patient has already checked-in to the clinic.

    By the way, this is my third submission of a reply to your article. Were my first two a bit too critical of the Veterans Administration for the author’s or editors liking?

    Secretary Willkie is way out of his league with this pie in the sky dream. Want to really fix the VA, Mr. Secretary? Just give us the benefits the recruiter promised. And stop delaying decisions and adjudications such as you are doing to the Blue Water Navy Vets, and many other who served honorably, and have earned their benefits.

    Delay, Deny, Hope that we Die is more than a mantra. It is your Modus Operandi.

  2. Jim Clement    

    That NEVER occurred at Honolulu (Spark Matsunaga) the twenty plus years I received healthcare from them. Absolutely abysmal. Particularly with regards to Mental Health. Best Day of my life when I left.

    Yes, this (like so many other VA related things) sounds good on paper – – – but how it plays out in the real world will be the true test. Most VA related things FAIL in the real world

    “VA for ALL” as Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez has stated. I like that. If all Americans were forced to endure the abysmal healthcare, missed diagnosis, cancelled appointments, erroneous records, long wait times, etc. and ever increasing denial of benefits that we veterans have been enduring ever since the end of the Vietnam war – – – for eighteen months to two years, there would be riots in the streets and millions would be marching on Washington demanding someone’s head on a pole.

    Maybe “VA for ALL” is what it would take to TRULY wake this country up. Delay, Deny, Hope that we Die is not just a slogan. It is the VA’s standard Modus Operandi.

  3. Jim Clement    

    Customer Service at the Veterans Administration, Secretary Wilkie? You could start by firing the PR firms that generate ‘fluff’ pieces to brainwash our fellow citizens as to the glorious healthcare we receive at your organization’s hands. You could start with some basic honesty to your customers about what realyy goes on within your organization, and why there exists no true accountability.

    You could tell all veterans and the American Public the truth about Dr. Dan “the Candy Man” Houlihan, a VA doctor who helped to perpetuate the Opioid Crisis. Rather than fire him outright, your organization played a shell game, transferring him between medical facilities.

    You could own up to the Veterans Administrations part in poor Mental Health treatment that results in excess of 22 veterans across our nation taking their own lives every day in the United States, and very little media attention being given to it. We could talk about Lieutenant Colonel Jim Turner, USMC who in full Dress Uniform at the Bay Pines, Florida VA Facility took his own life with his rifle atop his stack of VA Records on 10 December 2018, and many more veterans like him. These veterans show that it is not about weak or fragile people. Lt. Col. was the fifth veteran who committed suicide at the Bay Pines facility in as many years.

    Veteran suicide is about pain. Physical, emotional, and spiritual pain. Utter long-term waves of pain that overwhelm even the strongest of us.

    I have read over the years in many publications, and on many websites that many of you at the Veterans Administration are spending huge amounts of the United States Taxpayers money trying to figure out the “why”. It is really very simple.

    As military members in “Boot Camp”, we are torn down to our base personalities and then rebuilt with high and lofty ideas like honor, duty, selflessness, service, valor, integrity, courage, loyalty, trust, respect, etcetera.

    When we serve on active duty, we find these are not always the values of our superiors. We push on because the great majority of military members do hold these values. They believe in them and die for them. When it comes to the Veterans Administration there exists a disconnect. We walk the halls of VA hospitals and find all the same words, but not the same belief in them.

    It is very clear that many VA employees have sold out these values so they can get a higher paycheck or promotions. Veterans are not blind. We see through the fake smiles, the fake words, the propaganda banners on every surface. The “ICare” phoniness.

    We can see the absurdly ridiculous waste and fraudulent spending. Contrary to popular belief, we can and do read. A great many veterans hold advanced degrees in any discipline you could possibly imagine. We are not stupid by any measure.

    No difficulty is required to access the CDC and any other websites in order to research the truth about how many veterans have died due to VA wait lists, fraud, and outright murder.

    We can see the billions upon billions of dollars thrown at the VA by Congress only to see it squandered on yet more worthless, dysfunctional websites. We see obscenely opulent facilities that begin to immediately fall apart because of abysmal contracting administration, and maintenance.

    Veterans know these beautiful new facilities are not for us, but for the VA employees. If the VA were for veterans, we would have much better care and benefits. Not pretty buildings with $5000 office chairs and myriads of new technology that just sit there not being utilized.

    We would have the ability to buy our own health insurance, and not have to wait months or years (sometimes decades) so we can drive hundreds of miles to a death camp only to NOT receive the medical care we were promised and desperately need.

    What I believe is causing many veteran suicides is the inability to stomach hearing one more story about how the VA has killed yet another few hundred of our brothers and sisters, then having to endure hearing one of these “fine” VA employees say “Thank You For Your Service.”

    How awful this is. To have insult added to an already untenable and tragic situation. I fear this will only worsen over time. I fear many more thousand of our brethren will die this way because the pain in our bodies and minds is nothing compared to the pain of our country’s betrayal.

    That which we loved so much is now killing us.

    Suicide Prevention and Customer Service? Sounds good on paper. In the real world? You are way out of your league, Mr. Secretary.

  4. Bill Billings    

    I’d want to be a Rebel White Hatter, where other Veterans would feel completlely free to share their VA experience of horrors. The VA story’s that the Agency, or any Gov’t leadership doesn’t want the Veteran or the American public to know of a transparent VA.

    VA’s PR Arm doesn’t always promote things for the best interest of Veterans. Its like a VA paid Patient Advocate is going against a Providers decision, or to reasonably bring up a conflict to where the Patient Advocate stands vy the Veteran. Because that’s where the leads, science, and data say.

    VA needs a Forensic Audit to actually see how sick the VA infrastructure and distribution of services are in a deep muck. Many employees can’t & don’t completely follow through with policy procedures, protocols, or to even follow medical common sense.

    And to include the Veteran in their own medical care, better results would happen, and make a positive difference in the VA-Veteran relationship outcome.

    Veterans are getting tired of derivative medical benefits & care. Hey VA, jump into realism not PR-ism to look good. Veterans want to feel good, and to be satisfied with the VA services received.

  5. Kathryn Cooper    

    It must be nice to live in Never Neverland where you are the author and your own client. Its not that way in the real world. VA employees yell at the Veterans, then complain and say the Veteran did the yelling. You lie to and about the Veterans and knowing they have PTSD and expect them to smile and be happy that you are giving them worst care than A MASH unit on the front lines.
    I know because I have seen it all in the past 9 years with my husband. The last 8 months have been the worse. His Prostate is enlarge, but no exams have ever been given. His Kidneys are not emptying or operating at max capacity due to the enlarged Prostate. And still nothing said by the VA. And Bladder also in not Emptying due to the Prostate. Then because of all that my husband had an UTI . Still the VA does nothing. My husband ended up in the Emergency room. That’s when we found out he had an UTI. a day before he went in his Urine test showed his WBC had clumps and many. 5 months later again another one with WBC high and with Clumps. Did the VA catch it? No. He went to an Urology (a real Urologist) again we had to pay outside for Antibiotics. My husband almost died due to the VA neglect 7 months ago. Then you wonder why Veterans don’t want to go to a VA hospital.
    Our Veterans deserves The best care. Socialize Medicine at its Best. Which is worse than having a doctor operate on you out in the woods.

  6. Kathryn Cooper    

    I left a comment. Where did it go? Someone, as in VA’s employees, must have removed it!

  7. Crazy Elf    

    This sure isn’t occurring down here at the Deltona, Florida VHA (small) Clinic.
    I could have DIED because of the incompetence of their ALLEGED healthcare professionals! I’ve actually, on my own, have been using an private sector healthcare system.
    What was written in this article, and told by Secretary Wilkie, is NOT occurring at my VHA facility.
    That facility is a joke!

    1. Jim Clement    

      Crazy Elf,

      Let us also not forget the Bay Pines Florida VA facility. Just this past December, Jim Turner, Lt. Col. USMC, put on his full dress uniform, drove himself to that facility – – – sat on to of his stack of VA records – – – then ended his life with a rifle. I surmise the pain of such fine healthcare after his honorable service to our country finally became unbearable.

      For the record, this was the fifth veteran suicide to have occurred at the Bay Pines facility since 2013. While the VA spends millions upon millions of U.S. Taxpayer dollars studying many things in order to try to find out the root cause of why so many veterans are committing suicide, they overlook one glaringly simple, obvious fact:

      “The pain we suffer in our bodies and minds is nothing compared to the pain of our country’s betrayal. That which we love so much is now killing us. How awful this is. How many of these suicides are driven by the inability to stomach one more story about how the VA has killed another few hundred of our brothers and sisters through medical malfeasance? Then to add insult to injury, we have to endure “Thank you for your service” from these ‘fine’ VA folks.

      Delays in benefit processing. Delays in Appeals. Denials. Falsified records. Lowballing of Ratings.

      Make no mistake. The VA plays a huge part in veteran suicide.

  8. Michael Mercer    

    I visited the Bellevue, WA facility and I was impressed at how thorough they were. I didn’t like having to drive that far, however, I recently found a better location. It was my first visit to a VA facility, so I didn’t know what to expect. I would say it couldn’t have been much better. Thanks for asking, MSM.

  9. S M Wallace    

    Agreed, looks good on paper but the reality is that VA is treating veterans like just another number or piece of meat in a butcher shop. The VA is trying to alienate veterans and doesn’t really want to deal with us in person. Case in point, at my VA hospital, Togus Maine here in VISN 1, there are kiosks that veterans are EXPECTED to use to sign in for their appointments. I for one refuse to use the kiosks for two reasons. First, they violate my HIPAA rights since anyone standing behind me can see all of my private information. Secondly, they are the VA violating their obligation to protect every patients PII under title 45CFR. The one clinic that always gives me trouble when I check in with an MSA, asked me one day if I had tried to use the kiosk and I told the girl that I had not and had no intentions of using the kiosk ever. I also told her my reasons as stated above. The MSA sitting at the next cubicle asked what my first name was, so I told her. I got checked in then the MSA came over and stood behind the one who was checking me in and they both stared at me like I had three heads. The clinic has since “covered” the kiosks with a piece of paper that veterans have to lift out of the way to check in at them (the kiosks) but the paper tells the veterans to put the paper back over the kiosk to protect information. Stupid!! There is no PII on the kiosks until someone is using them to check in. Togus refuses to get rid of the kiosks or put them in locations where other people can not stand right behind whomever is using them. In my opinion, MSA’s are hired to do a job which INCLUDES checking clients in for their appointments. The MSA’s I am talking about feel it is more important to make a veterans wait for them while they finish telling the other MSA’s about their shopping experience. my solution for these inept clerks is to have a conversation with the chief of this particular clinic, especially since the patient advocate at this hospital is also inept and unhelpful.

  10. Dale A Parris    

    I just read your article and I’d have to say that I’ve used VA in Northern California and in New York ( New York City ) and in New Jersey ( Brick out patience and East Orange VA hospital ) and everyone is just great. I call the spinal cord unit at East Orange my 12 star Hotel. All the Doctors, Nurses and the rest of the staff just go out of there way for each and every Vet they take care of. And when I’ve been in other areas of the hospital I’ve still had great care.

  11. Angela Dianne Mateen    

    After reading the articles and posts by Brett Robbins, Author at VAntage Point, I would like to honor and give thanks to Mrs.Traci Washington, the Director of Columbus, Ohio Volunteer Services, located at the Chalmers P. Wylie Ambulatory Care Center in Columbus, Ohio! On more than many occasions, I have visually encountered excellent service from Mrs.Washington’s staff, Mrs. Karen Devine, Mr. Shedrick Siler, and Mr. Sidney. They are pleasant upon approach and they emanate genuine care and concern when and while they are serving Veterans.

    Individual who volunteers their time and service, serving in different capacities under the direction of Mrs. Washington, exemplifies professional courtesy as they assist each Veteran to their destination. Some family members have remarked how they feel about being a recipient to this kindness! Mrs. Washington’s ability to relay to the volunteers in their training and orientation process the importance of treating Veterans with respect and kindness, CANNOT be over looked! The volunteer’s behavior toward Veterans alludes to their education.

    I am often in this clinic and my experience has been respectful! I am greeted as I enter the facility, treated with dignity, and concern; I am never made to feel unimportant! These are my words and having spoken with more than 100 Veterans on this very subject, they seem to concur~~~I am totally in agreement with the post by Mr. Robbins because it falls within the confines of VA’s Code of Federal Regulations. I also agree with his post concerning the program of the “Red Coat Ambassador”, Customer service THE prime directive for all VA employees”, “The way we treat Veteran today is the reason they will choose VA tomorrow”! Thank You For Your Courtesy!

    Angela D. Mateen/Disabled Vietnam War Veteran

  12. Malinda Ann Robinson    

    Hello,

    Based on my experience in the past and recently, I can think of a better way to assist more veterans financially.

    I think that giving veterans that are not eligible for benefits and the ones who are not involved in the recent wars to be
    given the privilege of getting points to able to be hired. On applications in order to be consisered for employment, we have to be receiving disability benifits too. Why not let the veterans that do not qualify for disabled benefits,MST,
    get the priviledge to be considered for approval of jobs also. Some of these Vets are disabled in one way or another, but don’t get the right guidance, etc. You may need to add more Veterans on these committees and not civilians. I think that they may have more understanding and sympathy. This could also be a way to uper the number of Vets getting hired. Isn’t this a goal of the military? There need to be more checks and balances, especially in the hiring.

    Thank you for letting me respond.

    Respectfully submitted,
    Malinda A. Robinson

  13. Tammy Harrison    

    I agree with it does look good on paper, not happening in Virginia Beach, Hampton roads area. I am a widow of a Ret.Navy Veteran. He passed on 09/02/2018. I am disabled .Now with 1 income I can’t keep up with the bills. Now I am being evicted from my apt. With my children. so I agree Veterans Affairs only help people who are enlisted.

  14. Charles Vincent    

    Well that’s sure NOT what you get at salem vamc either. They are hateful, smartass and argumentative. Just ask Ashley in audiology.or how about the guy in prosthetics who works in ratty ass T-shirts and sweat pants.omg..i could go on and on.feel free to contact me.and im not saying its all bad.

  15. Emily McCapes    

    Yes it sounds good on paper !! But in Oregon (Portland,Roseburg,White City) that ant happen ! We’re I live it’s closer to go to Reno VA then Portland ! But I’m told we don’t send Vets out of Visn 20 !! The US Code don’t say anything about a Visn !! It just says we are to go to the closest VA Hospital !!

  16. Donna K    

    The urologist at the Cape Coral facility would not even look at us. My husband asked him the same question four times before he would answer him. If her were my employee, he would be terminated. And this is a doctor??? What a joke

  17. Ted Simmerman    

    Thank you for all of the efforts to help all Veterans.

  18. Michael Yates    

    In response to “Customer service THE prime directive for all VA employees“, you really need to add “EXCEPT IF YOU ARE A BLUE WATER NAVY VIETNAM VETERANS”. For years the VA has done everything it can to prevent the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans from receiving benefits for Agent Orange Exposure..

    On July 1, 2019 Secretary Wilkie of the VeteransAdministration decided to issue a Stay. In the VA statement, Secretary Wilkie states “VA is dedicated to ensuring that all veterans receive the benefits they have earned,” Wilkie said in a statement. “We are working to ensure that we have the proper resources in place to meet the needs of our Blue Water veteran community and MINIMIZE THE IMPACT ON ALL VETERANS FILING FOR DISABILITY COMPENSATION.” To me he is saying, just so we don’t impact other Veterans we are just going to delay The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans, AFTER ALL THEY ARE USED TO IT.

    It this case Secretary Wilkie is issuing a Stay from a law that doesn’t take effect until January 1, 2020. That should prove they are doing everything they can NOT to give the benefits to Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans.

    Are some say Deny Until THEY DIE. We are losing far too Many Veterans Daily. It’s time that the VA stands up and start doing the right thing for the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans.

    Mike Yates
    National Commander/Executive Director
    Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Association
    7065 W Ann Rd Ste 130-651
    Las Vegas NV 89130
    commander@bluewaternavy.org
    @BWNVVA
    (702) 769-4973

  19. D. Senior    

    How do I create a free account
    I see nothing to activate

  20. ly134    

    Just read your article on Veteran Staff Customer Service. As the old saying goes “Looks good on Paper” but “It Ain’t Happening in the Real World of VA”. At least at the Dallas TX VA Facility. Everyone appears to be bothered when you ask for needed information or when you leave a voice mail for a return call,
    the VA staff will not return your calls. I have been told by VA staffers recently that I was a Liar and the staff is to busy to work with me. As I said your Article sounds great in a “I wish it was this way” article.

    1. Laura Hayd    

      I agree 100% employees are bothered when you ask a question. Hire me a VET not some civilian off the street. I would treat VETS and their families better because I am a VET!

    2. Ron Yow    

      Same in Charleston, SC. Lots of big shots patting themselves on the back and no one directing the workforce. And how about the new MISSIONS Act? Millions of $ spent on marketing to say how wonderful this new initiative will be for vets, but we still have phone numbers that never get answered by a VA employee. Samo-o, Same-o. And just now when I try to post this comment I get a message that says, :You are posting comments too quickly, slow down.” Mercy!

    3. BeenThereSeenThat    

      Another VA puff piece.
      Just TRY calling/writing/e-mailing VA with a problem!
      Best not to hold your breath waiting to hear back.
      As for VA ever actually fixing your problem, simultaneously winning Powerball and surviving being hit by lightning, will happen sooner.

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