September 10, 2015

As VA was wrapping up its #VASummerOfService earlier this month, last week VBA’s Benefits Assistance Service (BAS) outreach team was doing what it does every season—serving you and your dependents and families! As one of VBA’s social media administrators, I trekked along with them on Sept. 10 and 11 to Richmond, Va., to see them in action for the benefits fair at the Holmes-McGuire VA Medical Center, and then the next day to talk with Veterans and Servicemembers in attendance at NASCAR’s Richmond International Raceway.

NASCAR RIR Toyota Camry pace car

NASCAR’s RIR pace car, parked outside the Holmes-McGuire VA Medical Center

Richmond is just a quick two-hour drive from our office in downtown Washington, D.C. On Thursday the 10th, we met at the VAMC where, in short time, a group of Xfinity Cup NASCAR drivers were scheduled to meet and greet. As soon as it showed up, Veterans and Servicemembers started taking “selfies” in front of the RIR pace car—a wild-liveried Toyota Camry.

Inside, VBA’s BAS outreach team had set up its booth nearest the front of the room, next to the Veterans Service Organization tables. I was surprised to see—even inside the VAMC—how a steady stream of Veterans and dependents of all ages stopped by the booth to talk VA benefits. They talked compensation, education, insurance, vocational rehabilitation and more. We even ran out of the popular Federal Benefits for Veterans, Dependents and Survivors handbook, though our later-that-day resupply ensured we’d be rockin’ for the rest of the weekend.

benefits fair

BAS’ outreach team talking benefits to a Veteran at Holmes-McGuire VAMC

By 10:30 a.m., the first driver—19-year old Chase Elliot—showed up. Since he was early, the VAMC’s public affairs officer led him on a tour of the hospital. I was in basic training when I was his age, and in Iraq not much later, so it was refreshing to see a rising star—and later, his companions—who had “never done anything like this before” overcome their nervousness and carry themselves with the maturity and ease of someone twice their age. And the Veterans loved it, too, as evidenced by the smiles and laughter beaming down the halls.

 September 11, 2015

driver talking to Veteran

NASCAR Xfinity Cup driver Chase Elliot signing an autograph and posing for a photo for a Veteran at Holmes-McGuire VA Medical Center

The next day—9/11—began bright and early at Richmond International Raceway, where we met the Mobile Vet Center (MVC) outside the grandstands. There, we set up the booth and tables and laptops, and then opened shop for race fan passers-by.

Throughout the day, I walked in and around the MVC (outside the stands), pit lane and anywhere I could get to capture the ways VA was reaching and interacting with Veterans.

“NASCAR is the most-watched sport in the country,” said Rob Reynolds, director for VBA’s Benefits Assistance Service, “and about 40 percent of its fans are Servicemembers and Veterans. That’s huge. This is just one thing we’re doing to reach a larger audience, to bring VA benefits to more Veterans.”

drivers talking to Veterans

NASCAR Xfinity Cup drivers signing autographs for Veterans at Holmes-McGuire VA Medical Center

Perhaps my favorite part of the weekend was watching how VBA’s BAS outreach team interacted with Vets.

At one point, I caught the tail end of a conversation between an older gentleman and Toni. I looked down at the table to see a benefits booklet thoughtfully dog-eared and stickied with several multi-colored sticky notes—highlighting every benefit in the book that he—AND his recently separated son may be eligible for. Later on, Jeremy was explaining the transition process—and how to switch your Servicemembers Group Life Insurance to Veterans Group Life Insurance—to a career Army soldier who would soon be retiring. Still later, inside the MVC, I saw Allison leading a Veteran through the eBenefits sign-up process, and in another corner, Jason was doing the same with another Vet on a different laptop, each of them playfully ribbing the other about which branch of service was better (the answer is Army, btw).

half staff flag at RIR

The flag flies half staff at RIR on 9/11 – NEVER FORGET

It’s then I realized that these kinds of interactions give a face to the Department of Veterans Affairs. These are my co-workers, yes, but THIS is MY VA: Toni, the NCO, squaring away her soldiers and leading by patient example; Jeremy looking out for his battle buddies; Jason, the Cavalry CO, holding his scouts accountable and encouraging them to do the right thing, but in making them laugh at the same time, thereby earning their respect and trust. The mentality of these interactions is familiar to us; they are what we remember—and miss!—and carry with us after serving. It’s very personal, and that’s what an outreach event is all about, whether it’s outside a NASCAR race, a blood drive, or even an empty parking lot in a rural town.

It’s where we connect to you and serve you—wherever you are.

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Published on Sep. 18, 2015

Estimated reading time is 4.4 min.

Views to date: 126


  1. Patrick jahnke October 5, 2015 at 11:08 pm

    I have a nurse I can not see my primary doctor, she told me do this that get some over the counter drug, seen my choice doc nurse wrong meds !!!! I got a phone call to cc my doctor Sept 2 appt was for Oct 2 what happened 3 day know a month cc a doctor, on top of that gall stone acting up , I call to directly to the top of va hospital clinic call back back I had wait 7 days to cc him, I seen him wanted do another xray, xray doc told him it needed more test, it on other flims yrs past, gall stones, sent paper work for general surgery it pass 10 days know no call for a appt to see a doc for surgery, my doc inform someone gall stone are lowest thing on his mind!!!! I video record my doc visit. It was all bs. And his nurse needs to stop giving out what to do, make veterans appt ccc the doc she not a P A nurses unless she taking courses on computer on va time. I’m still in pain, doctor head up her butt or she doing thing to him cover her ass.!!!!!? VA CARE HIT THE. BOTTOM OF THE OCEAN. Appt still suck, wait wait veteran still die waiting to see the doctor for care. Were is BOB ????? Said he cares to help veterans it got worse , they put positive things but how many die in between ccc a doctor???? , that info is not put out, news only will ccc upper personal he/she tell bs. Things to cover their clinic or hospital, so I know their cover up in va in all fields, va still refuses help veteran in pain since the cancel all narcotics drug to veterans, who give it to them get go, va doctor, but the doc still can as long he/she cc doc once a month to get them, but va refuses to give any out , big brother watch these new green doctor puppet on strings sorry u can’t do this that give that, send vet to clinic were they can’t help the veterans see quacks, be told sorry I can’t cc u no more because u can’t control nerves pain, or the clinic refuses to cc uuu because u refused to antidepressants drugs, that make a veteran worse zombies , so we’re do we go anymore , senators / Congress men/women don’t care for veterans either, but pass a bill give themselves $.50 increase or more us veteran 2% or less , we can’t even make aa go, homeless goes higher veterans kill them selves, health care no one can’t see them, or told hug a tree . I have told told that too. So wake up any va personal veterans will gain power again

  2. Alice Arnold September 21, 2015 at 11:56 pm

    Why are treatments- THAT HELP- offered at some VAMC’s and not others. They offer acupuncture at many sites and my husband was approved at one time. Then NO- we don’t do that. So we can ride to Richmond VAMC- four hours each way- receive $160 expenses- spend 20 minutes getting treatment. OR we can ride SEVEN miles here and get three treatments for less then the time and cost riding to Richmond VAMC.
    I would think that if one or two treatments is working- they would be approved to assist in giving our VETS the BEST quality of life possible. My husband is 40 year retired 100% disabled VET. And IF we drive to Hampton VA VAMC it is still 85 miles one way.
    I feel we are missing something- and want to be sure he can get approved- the acupuncturist PAID and be ale to continue his treatments once a week.
    Thank you for your time
    Alice Arnold- for Douglas Huggins

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