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

Veterans Experience Team

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.

MyVA Communities

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.

chakalea-picThis 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.



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Published on Sep. 28, 2016

Estimated reading time is 5.6 min.

Views to date: 171


  1. Toni Self October 12, 2016 at 2:16 pm

    I don’t know if anyone here can help me but I suspect that I am not the only one who has run into these problems. I have stage 4 endometriosis, service connected. I have been out of service for 4 yrs and STILL fighting to get what I WANT. I want a full hysterectomy. I feel it is my right to have it and no longer live in pain. I had a surgery in Feb 2016, where they found a list of things wrong, including bowel and bladder adhesions, and a “frozen pelvic”. This means that all of my abdominal organs are fused together. An extensive surgery is going to be required to do a full hysterectomy. My surgeon wanted me to start Lupron (which put me on chemical menopause), which I did not want but did it anyway, Our initial plan was 6 months on it and then surgery. Each shot is 3 months long and when I went to get my 2nd (and final so I thought), I was told that the attending surgeon wanted me on the shot for a YEAR! Without consulting, speaking, or even asking me, she just decided to put my life on hold for another 6 months. I was furious! I asked to speak to her several times, left messages, and even called Patient Advocacy. After 2 MONTHS, she finally called me back. She said that it was her opinion that we continue the Lupron and then do the surgery. I told her I was making an appointment with a civilian dr to get another opinion. I did. My civilian GYN referred me to a GYN-Oncologist. He said he could do the surgery no problem. They both agreed that Lupron wasn’t going to help me and that the surgery needed to happen ASAP. I reported the findings to my attending surgeon at the VA and was told that I could not get a referral to an outside surgeon because my attending did not think surgery was “in my best interest”. So here I am, on chemical menopause, stuck in a rut. Every single time I try to get answers, I get passed around to different offices. I call to talk to my dr and it takes weeks, even months to get a call back. I am at my wits end with it!!

  2. Cynthia Ann Deckerhoff October 3, 2016 at 8:39 am

    The Veteran Haven program in Warren, Ohio has given me the support to get my life back after leaving an abusive marriage and in need of a home. I am so thankful for all of my case staff workers, Anita, Kayla, Matt, Cara, and Rampage always showing concern for helping me in any way they can to help me get my life back altogether. My Veteran Medical care in Youngstown, Ohio and at Wade Park in Cleveland, Ohio has always shown concern for every mental and physical health concern. They remind me of all my future women health appointments. I am so thankful for Health team 2 at Youngstown, Ohio VA clinic.

  3. Penny Decker October 1, 2016 at 7:08 pm

    I sure wish you could do something to improve the LA region. VA care is very poor for me. It cannot be coordinated and there is much hostility among the providers and staff. It shows in the quality of care and manner in which care is delivered. the West LA area and VA in Sepulveda and outlying clinics need a massive overhaul into modern day veteran needs. I choose to disassociate myself from them because they have made my life much more stressful and more difficult than it need be. there are a few good doctors but the system is so dysfunctional it prevents them from being effective.

    I am 100 percent service connected and have seen massive change in quality of care of the last ten years. I will not use VA any more.
    I would like to share my experiences with you if you are interested in the feedback. I too would still like to feel I could make a difference.

  4. David Haynes September 30, 2016 at 5:01 pm

    My experience is that they turned me down for VA MEDICAL care. I guess I have too much money. I did serve 4 years active in the Navy. Must not count.

  5. Elizabeth Lemoine September 30, 2016 at 2:31 pm

    I’m proud to belong to New Mexico Women Veterans, they are very supportive and helpful with all things. They are noted for helping homeless women veterans. Liz Lemoine

  6. Jack Robinson September 30, 2016 at 2:09 pm

    I appreciate seeing more emphasis being placed on expanded services and quality care for all veterans.

    Outsourcing medical care as needed can better ensure veterans will receive needed services with local providers on a more timely basis.

    The bottom line should always be…Quality, Caring and Timely Medical Services to all who served.

    Thanks for caring enough to make a difference.

    Jack Robinson

    • Lisa Smith October 4, 2016 at 6:21 pm

      Why would a man need a mammogram?

      • Lydia Smith October 5, 2016 at 3:06 pm

        Men can get breast cancer, cysts, and tumors! Not everyone knows this or understands this…

  7. Paulette Duerson September 30, 2016 at 12:26 pm

    I look at the pictures, I read the articles, and I am proud of the people that are making every effort to support veterans in their recovery to physical, mental, and emotional health. 11 years ago I had ideas about helping veterans, and I tried to help like most compassionate people do.

    I see pictures of black women, educated women in your post, and I am not sure what the difference is, why am I so hated. I served American, I earned a Undergraduate Degree, and I had an idea to help veterans, and I got stepped on hard by America, go figure.

    This post, or email is to just show me, that you don’t need my ideas. I could have simply been supported 11 years ago just like some of the other stories featured here in this article.

    While I served, AT THE TIME, keep in mind it was years ago when things for me and this country were better.
    I did/do have the Duerson name, during that time Dave Duerson was playing Pro Football, guys in the military would make me do extra sit-ups, push-ups, and extra laps around the track because my name was “Duerson” and Dave had earned 2 Superbowl Rings, they told me to represent the name. I shouted back, I wish I could make all of you (you & him) workout in a fitness video, since you like fitness so much. To my surprise, they said do you think he will do it, my reply, “I could ask him.” I did ask him, he said, yes. This has been the biggest mistake of my life. Trying to help veterans. I literally asked him because of that day, plus those same guys had a before and after experience. before they went to the middle east they were playful and lively, and after they came back, they were changed. I felt, I had to ask him. What ever he was going through in his life I had no knowledge of. He simply said, “Yeah, I will help with this project. People bring ideas to celebrities all the time, some of that stuff I know nothing about, but this, this I know. I know exercise and fitness, so yeah, I will help you”. He also said, “it must be devine intervention”. I believe I will spend the rest of my life hated by America for asking America to do a fitness video honoring Vetering Veterans. You send me this email, and I think it is good, but knowing what I tried to put together, sometimes I take these emails as if you are putting it in my face. “We don’t need you or your ideas. If that is true, then stop sending me your emails.

    It is obvious you are trying to show me, that you have moved on without considering my ideas, but don’t rumb my face in it.

    Thank you.

    • Sherry Hight September 30, 2016 at 7:22 pm

      We, as Women Veterans’ are just as much second rate citizens’ as we were in the service. It takes Divine intervention to get a mammogram; men get them no problem. I walked around for 2 years with vaginal cancer before anyone got serious and I had a complete hysterectomy.

  8. Care Fisher September 30, 2016 at 11:24 am

    Regarding women’s care at the VA. My experience at the VA, they do not supply the right size needles for Phlebotomies for women. At one time I contacted the Department of Veterans and they told me that they get the needles from the Red Cross, that was it. My nurse at the Fayetteville Hospital created a way to Phletomize me. But now I had to transfer to the Columbia Hospital and it was and is a nightmare. The nurses said they did not have the supplies like they do in Fayetteville. They seem to not want to care for me. I drive 2 hours one way to Columbia, if I transferred back to Fayetteville I would have to drive 3 hours one way and receive no travel reimbursement.

  9. Nan Merrick Phifer September 29, 2016 at 6:58 pm

    Thank you for this well-organized information.

    I would like to send a letter of appreciation to Kayla Williams. Please tell me how to contact her.

    Nan Phifer

Comments are closed.

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