VA is engaged in a major initiative, the MyVA transformation, to rebuild trust with Veterans, their families and survivors, and the American people by leveraging VA’s scope and scale to give every Veteran an exceptional experience that is easy, consistent and memorable.
One of the key strategies to accomplish the goal of becoming a high-performing organization is to focus on improving the Veterans’ experience. In this week’s blog on the State of Women Veterans, field consultant Chakakhon Lea shares her personal story – and describes how it inspires and informs her work in the Office of Veterans Experience. Passionate, dedicated members of the VA team like Chakakhon are committed to ensuring that all Veterans are considered throughout this transformation.
One woman Veteran’s personal story
As a female Army Veteran and an employee of Veterans Experience Office (VE), I appreciate the new transformational changes occurring in VA. Personally, I feel VA has not always been an organization that focused on female Veterans. I remember my first visit to the VA as a medically retired 23-year-old Veteran. I was new to the system and frightened as I sat in the emergency room at a VA facility.
Throughout the visit, the staff called me “Mr. Lea” or asked if I was there with my husband/father. When I was finally seen by the intake nurse and admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU), I was visited by a nurse manager who said “Ms. Lea, I understand you have an acute condition; maybe you should request to be moved to the affiliate medical school across the street because the VA only exists for pain management for older Vietnam Veterans.”
I was crushed, angry and felt devalued as a Veteran. After spending over a year in a wheelchair trying to recover from that visit, I promised myself that I would work to create a better VA for all Veterans, especially the ones that I met in the ER.
Today, as a VE field consultant, I now have the opportunity to travel extensively throughout the North Atlantic District to support Secretary McDonald’s top agency priority of improving the Veterans experience on an enterprise level. My personal mission is to ensure that all Veterans feel valued, receive the same Veteran/customer experience at every VA facility, and help rebuild trust in the VA that provides us with benefits, services and healthcare.
VA has come a long way since my first visit more than 15 years ago. Today, there are women’s clinics at most VA facilities and we (VA) are highlighting women Veterans’ concerns through this blog series.
About the Veterans Experience Office
VA Sec. Bob McDonald and the Northeast Veterans Experience Office team.
Veterans do not see three individual VA “administrations.” They just see VA. Whether it is health care, disability compensation, education and employment benefits, home loans, or memorial benefits, Veterans must feel they can turn to and trust VA. VA is improving the Veterans Experience across all of our offerings. This means that each individual VA program office and front-line staff member provides the best possible experience that addresses a Veteran’s needs and goals.
It also means that the experiences need to be coordinated and integrated across all of the different ways in which Veterans interact with VA – whether they walk into a medical center or public outreach event, call, e-mail or seek information on a website. Veterans deserve to get what they need in the easiest way possible and feel honored and respected, and we are working towards that goal every day. The Veterans Experience team is, or will be, supporting the rest of VA in these efforts. Our team works on enterprise projects that improve the experience of Veterans with VA as a whole and also on projects that improve the experience of Veterans with VHA, VBA and NCA. Since its inception, VEO has been working to:
- Understand Veterans’ needs, wants and expectations of VA
- Measure Veterans’ experiences with VA from Veterans’ points of view
- Create a common standard for Veterans experience at VA
- Improve VA’s engagement in communities
- Improve the experiences of Veterans by improving the experiences of front-line hospital staff
Women Veterans are among the Veterans that we are working with to improve the overall experience with VA. In March 2016, the Veterans Experience team completed the first “Veteran journey map” that maps out the key stages of a Veterans life. We show how VA’s products and services currently support each stage of their journey. The map is the result of more than 100 hours of interviews with Veterans, family members, and supporters in their homes, offices and at VA.
This work was conducted all across the country and with Veterans of all era of service, socioeconomic status, and across other demographic lines. We understand no two journeys are the same and that the process through these life stages is often non-linear. We also know there is no single woman Veterans experience. So in addition to the Journeys we have been looking at different personas that use VA. For example, the needs of a “fast tracker” female Veteran who seeks efficient, self-service tools is very different than the “day-by-day” woman Veteran who is in and out of VA care and is in need of wraparound services.
One VE initiative is supporting the creation of MyVA Communities through local Community Veteran Engagement Boards (CVEBs). The MyVA Communities model enables Veteran advocates, service providers, Veterans and stakeholders to convene through a CVEB, have a voice in identifying their community goals and work to resolve issues at the local level to improve service delivery for Veterans, servicemembers and their families. The community framework is inclusive, accessible, community-driven, flexible and integrated. To give an example, the District VEO and local VA facility are networking with the CVEB to deploy a Mobile Breast Exam Unit. The CVEB members can allow the mobile unit access to their parking area, where Veterans will have an opportunity to receive on-the-spot breast exams in the community in lieu of waiting for an appointment.
This is the fifth blog in an 11-week series on the State of Women Veterans. Visit the campaign page to read other entries.
This story in this article was contributed by Chakakhon Lea, a field consultant in the Veterans Experience Office. She is a proud Army Veteran and currently a doctoral candidate in an organizational leadership program.
VAntage Point would like to hear from you about the issues Veterans face. If you have a story you would like to share with us and your fellow Veterans, here’s how to submit it.