I recently had two conversations that are still on my mind. Both dealt with employer brand and the image of VA.

As the Recruitment Marketing Manager for Veterans Health Administration, I review the VA news, social media and trends daily—well, constantly. This can sometimes be emotional. Anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows I spent 20 years in the U.S. Army, many of those in local communities representing the Army in Recruiting, and I spent 5 years working in the private sector before making my way to VA. Needless to say, like most Army Veterans, I bleed green and love my fellow Veterans. So anytime I hear poor reviews or opinions, I get a bit “sensitive.” But that is a good thing. That is my job, to know what America “thinks” of VA. Specifically, the “employer brand” of VA.

Now of course you may say I am biased since I work for VA. But I have also had the opportunity to meet thousands of employees nationwide, at multiple Medical Centers, who have captivating passion and love for their work.

Story one- A message on Twitter caught my attention.

While the reference was about the size of VA, many may perceive this as an observation of a negative, uncommitted staff. I find it small-focused. Case In point: Previously, Brandon worked for VA at HQ in DC. I am not aware of many times he had the opportunity like @TommySowers and previously @TammyDuckworth has/had to tour VA nationally at Veteran events, program offices and facilities. It is this opportunity that leads to the enjoyment of reporting visits on the ground with staff. Mr. Sowers is a smart leader with a strong education and background and leaves the follower with a favorable opinion of VA and its employees, and shares the common respect all of us feel for our Veterans.

The second conversation was with my wife. A visit yesterday with her ENT Doctor led to her plugging VA to a Resident working at the local facility. His response: “I want to work in primary care and I want to take care of our boys, but not at VA.” I died a little bit right then. What has led this future physician to brush off VA so completely?

Stigma, as defined by Webster’s, is a mark of guilt or disgrace. While VA has earned some of the guilt and disgrace, much is painted on VA from Journalists, politicians, disgrunted employees and frustrated Veterans, most meaning well.

It has become commonplace to “bad mouth” VA, deserved or not. In America, people are usually protective of their Mama, their pet and their spouse. We need to be protective of our Veterans and how we take care of them. I am writing this as Darren, a retired Veteran 1SG, not as representing VA’s view. I get angry when I hear people promote problems with no solutions. It is human nature to complain louder than praise. That is why negative comments float higher than positive comments about VA. It needs to stop.

I urge everyone: If you have a valid complaint about VA, address it as a professional, and in the proper formal channel. If you see a wrong, correct it. If you see a win, promote it and praise it.

And for my media friends, if you want your name on a story or to increase your clout score, please do not do it on the “wake” of VA. Support Veterans by promoting awesome human-interest stories and scientific advances that will lend to improving not just the image of VA, but encourage quality providers to take care of our boys/girls at VA.  

I also encourage everyone to support Veterans by volunteering your time at VA or by hiring Veterans to make a difference.

As most Mamas say, “If you do not have anything nice to say….”

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Published on Feb. 11, 2014

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