The year 1971 had many big events. Disney World opened in Orlando, Fla. Over 500,000 Vietnam War protesters marched in Washington, D.C. In the Pacific Northwest, a coffee shop called Starbucks opened in Seattle. And down in Birmingham, Alabama, Geneva Robinson began a remarkable career, starting a a job as a food service worker at Birmingham VA.

The world is different now than in 1971. Back then, a gallon of gas cost 36¢ and Apollo 15 astronauts rode an electric car on the moon in the same year Elon Musk was born.

More than 50 years later, she’s still there and Robinson’s dedication to our nation’s Veterans has never changed. In 1985, she became Birmingham VA’s first Patient Advocate, advocating for Veterans and helping both them and VA resolve concerns with aplomb and respect.

“Know how to respect the Veteran”

“We ask for these jobs,” she said. “And we have to know how to respect the Veteran. If a patient comes in 12 times a week, you see them every time. You help.”

In December, VA Secretary Denis McDonough recognized Robinson for her five decades of service when he visited Birmingham VA.

Veterans, their family members and co-workers celebrate Robinson’s work with kind words. Veterans who need help with their concerns simply ask for Ms. Geneva.

Robinson’s supervisor, Veteran Experience Officer Sonya Wilson, said she exemplifies all the components of VA’s core values, I-CARE (Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect, Excellence).

Birmingham VA has a pure jewel with Ms. Geneva as a Patient Advocate,” Wilson said. “I have had Veterans stop by my office to let me know they appreciate everything she does. We 100% appreciate Ms. Geneva. She is irreplaceable.”

Looks forward to finding solutions

Robinson said she looks forward to listening to Veterans’ concerns and finding creative ways to get to a resolution. Mutual respect and being a voice for Veterans is also crucial to her work.

“I don’t mind speaking up for my Veterans,” Robinson said. “I call the patients at home to see if their concerns can be resolved and to make sure they’re satisfied.”

She said a good Patient Advocate requires one important thing: love.

“Loving Veterans doesn’t come from school,” she added. “You really have to be born with it. And then you have to be able to show it. I work closely with POWs. I attend funerals and I sing for them. When I try to take time off, I end up wanting to come back. Veterans really are my family.”

By Ann E. Doran is the executive director of VHA's Office of Patient Advocacy

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Published on Feb. 6, 2022

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