The success of an organization is grounded in how it treats its customers. When customers are not satisfied with a product or service they either complain or they leave. But what if a customer cannot just leave, what if they need the organization?

At that point, the organization itself has a choice – work around the complaints, or adapt and become more customer-centric and customer service oriented. Under the leadership of Secretary Bob McDonald, VA chose the latter and that decision is already paying dividends.

VA brought home two out of the five President’s Customer Service Awards presented at the White House on Dec. 15 for improving customer service by focusing on the needs of Veterans.

Dr. Justin Springer, of the DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston, received the award for implementing 19 new initiatives that resulted in a 10-point increase in customer satisfaction. He is one of only two federal employees nationwide to receive the award.

The 10-point increase in customer satisfaction has an extra degree of significance for patients in Dr. Springer’s care, because he heads up the Mental Health Inpatient Unit at Debakey VAMC.

On Wednesday, December 16, 2015, VA Secretary Robert McDonald met VA psychologist Dr. Justin Springer, who was recently named as the Department of Veterans Affairs finalist of the President’s Customer Service Award. (VA photo/Robert Turtil)

Dr. Justin Springer

“Dr. Springer is incredibly committed to using patient feedback to improve the Veteran experience,“ said Adam Walmus, director of the Houston facility. “He meets with Veterans on a regular basis and engages staff to analyze patient satisfaction data and drive improvement efforts in numerous areas throughout the medical center. He is truly dedicated to the Veterans we serve and inspires others to high levels of excellence.”

Springer said this award reflects the commitment of VA employees serving those who are in an emotional crisis or are under-served. “If we can focus on that I think we are headed in the right direction,” he explained.

“It is easy to assume that because they are in a coercive environment that their satisfaction is not important. But if they are satisfied, if they are receiving the same love and care that any of us would want, they are more open to our services and more likely to seek the services they are going to need in the future,” Springer said.

He also points out that improving customer satisfaction has the additional benefit of improving the outlook and mental health of Veterans who are often in their most vulnerable mental state, a benefit that has more merit than any statistical value.

One of the things Springer enjoys most about his job is making a difference in the lives of Veterans.

“It’s incredibly rewarding serving the Veterans who have served our country,” Springer said. “At the VA, our goal is to treat each and every Veteran the way we would want one of our own family members to be treated.   It’s an honor and a privilege to continually work to provide these heroes the top quality healthcare they deserve.”

The second award received by VA was presented to the BusinessUSA Veteran Entrepreneur Initiative for taking a complicated array of information and streamlining it into one easy to find, easy to navigate web resource for Veterans looking to become entrepreneurs or grow their current business.

Before BusinessUSA launched, Veterans would have to visit up to 20 different websites to find information related to their business needs. Today, Veterans visit one website that pulls all the relevant information from those 20-plus sites into a single place. Since its launch, it has served more than 250,000 Veterans and has embodied the customer-first approach of Secretary McDonald.

“We want to ensure that Veterans who are starting their own businesses can focus on the core issues related to making their businesses successful,” said Patrick Littlefield, Director, VA Center for Innovation. “As our customers, this means getting Veterans the resources they need quickly, efficiently, and in a form that meets their needs. Being presented with this award is a terrific validation and tells us that we are on the right path, the path to helping our Veterans,”

On Wednesday, December 16, 2015, VA Secretary Robert McDonald met VA psychologist Dr. Justin Springer, who was recently named as the Department of Veterans Affairs finalist of the President’s Customer Service Award.  (VA photo/Robert Turtil)

On Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015, VA Secretary Robert McDonald met VA psychologist Dr. Justin Springer, who was recently named as the Department of Veterans Affairs finalist of the President’s Customer Service Award.  (VA photo/Robert Turtil)

Secretary Bob McDonald agrees. “We are making a difference in the lives of Veterans through improved customer service, and through an improved Veteran experience. We are training people in VA to provide that better experience. We are training people to plan and create better experiences for Veterans. Seeing Justin and BusinessUSA receive these awards gives me great optimism that all 350,000 of us at VA can give those delightful experiences to those who gave so much for us,” McDonald said.

VA remains committed to listening to Veterans needs and envisions a permanent shift from a bureaucracy-laden organization to one that Veterans see as a partner in their health care, education, business goals and the numerous other benefits and services available to them.

Join us on Facebook and Twitter-@DeptVetAffairs to continue the discussion and tell us about great customer service experiences you have had with VA in the last year.

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Published on Dec. 17, 2015

Estimated reading time is 4.3 min.

Views to date: 101


  1. Joy Anderson December 28, 2015 at 11:40 am

    There are a great many employees on a lower level that it would be nice to recognize. The ones mentioned get much $$ for performing their jobs. But some employees that make under 70K love their jobs and love the veterans they serve. I see it daily. For instance, the lady who answers the phone when you call the Jack C Montgomery Pharmacy in Muskogee.

  2. barry December 27, 2015 at 11:13 pm

    When a veteran is made homeless by the state, he is no longer a veteran and you are no longer his state, you are his enemy until the day you fix your state. I am an enemy of these United States in that manner.

  3. Annette Jackson December 27, 2015 at 7:17 pm

    I actually talked a homeless veteran to coming to Debakey VA Medical Center in Houston. Well, he received promises but no customer service, he is still homeless and need medical help. So sad, my heart really aches and hurt for him, he’s my baby son…
    So i pray that your award winning good customer service go to him and give him the help that he needs and that’s available to him…
    I would greatly appreciate it

  4. DannyG December 18, 2015 at 11:44 am

    Maybe a Recognition (by the vets) Program would help improve VETERAN Service. I have never seen a more veteran-centered VA employee than Nurse Susie in the Mental Health clinic at “my VA”. Would someone please contact her to let her know that “some vet” thinks she is the best !
    Since you are the Dept of Veterans Affairs, why not exploit that uniqueness & call us by name – VETERAN SERVICE – WE ARE NOT CUSTOMERS! ! Does this bother anyone else? Please comment.

  5. TOM CANNON December 18, 2015 at 8:27 am

    I had to laugh when I saw that headline. Yesterday, December 17th, my sister-in-law called the Pittsburgh VA about her brother’s death benefit. She is the executrix of his estate and she applied for his death benefit in September, over 3 months ago and she needs to settle the estate. That income is the only thing holding it up since September. She was told by a customer service rep at the Pittsburgh VA that she must understand that they are very busy and it may take up to next August to get her application processed! That will be almost a full year to receive her brother’s death benefit. That’s insane and I can’t believe that many veterans are dying around Pittsburgh, PA that it would take more than 45 days to process applications for death benefits. If it does, then I think those personnel need to be replaced with some who really do care about customer service. They need to cut the excuses and get down to work!
    A Veteran myself

  6. Kiz Myazz December 17, 2015 at 10:24 pm

    I guess I live in the wrong area because my VA customer experience has been anything but fantastic. In fact, it’s been a total nightmare, pretty much on pare with the rest of the nation, despite the sunshine they try to blow up your rear end

  7. Anthony J. DeCarlo December 17, 2015 at 1:45 pm

    Hold off on this service improvement spin until the whole corrupted organization is fixed; this includes fixing the C&P program which is nothing more than a fill the square game which prevent thousands of veterans from getting benefits they deserve! Stop the damned bonuses program, it is criminal to give bonuses to people who provide sub standard.

  8. Mike Crum December 17, 2015 at 11:21 am

    I say 22 Veterans a day are not happy with Customer Service. Fix that and I’ll be impressed.

  9. Joe Blow December 17, 2015 at 10:57 am

    I wish that when you go to a V A center ( Tuskegee , Al. ) that the people that works there would look at you when they talk to you and not talk down to you .

Comments are closed.

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