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Commentary

As a combat Veteran and CEO of a nonprofit organization that supports Veterans, I often hear people comment on ways our nation can improve VA care for America's heroes. When I think of the awesome responsibility we have to nurture Veterans, I know there are some common sense solutions to streamline efforts that offer guidance and support to our former servicemen and women. One suggestion is for VA to incorporate military and Veteran cultural competency trainings for all staff, especially those who do not come from a military background. Another idea is to encourage organizations and individuals who support the Veteran community to finally work together to solve important issues. Cooperation can help us overcome any conflict.

In this article you will not hear cries of contention or assertions that restricting VA's budget will bring about positive change. I will not quibble over how dollars are expended towards VA programs and initiatives. Additionally, there will be no tough talk about the need for an evaluation of the strategic planning at this federal agency that is responsible for millions of Veteran lives. This article is not about pointing fingers, but inspiring hope. Though I will not provide statistics to validate my claims, many Americans agree that change is undoubtedly needed in VA.

ARVets grew out of the research and work of the Arkansas Yellow Ribbon Taskforce, which conducted an in-depth analysis of the needs of Arkansas Veterans and how efficiently those needs were being met. The Taskforce determined the need for an organization that would connect Veteran-specific resources to Veterans and their families. ARVets provides and coordinates resources for members of the military, Veterans, and their families through a variety of programs and services, including a job readiness program that improves the ability of Veterans to successfully acquire and sustain gainful employment. More information may be found at www.arvets.org.

Now, more than ever before, VA patients, staff, and leaders need inspiration and hope. The hope that I see lies in a new branding campaign! Across this nation VA has no synergy and no consensus about who it is and what it represents. At present, when it comes to VA's brand or image, perceptions too often depend on what day you call, which location you visit, and how the day has been for the employee answering the phone. We need to change that.

We need to demand that there be a national branding campaign that conveys a message of compassion, concern, and caring for Veterans, from the receptionist to the division directors to the Secretary of VA. As so many people scrutinize VA to uncover what it does wrong, a comprehensive campaign will help inform and excite Americans about what it does right, such as VA staff's focus on improved patient engagement and patient-centered care. Such a campaign can play a dual role in exciting VA staff about their part in Veterans' care. No good branding campaign happens without some internal planning, training, and staff development. Let staff become excited not about being the voice of the Veteran but listening to the voice of the Veteran and his or her family. VA staff can ensure that a certain level of the "respect the rank, or respect the service" philosophy is shown through Veteran care, not to belittle staff, but to encourage them to have pride about their role in serving our nation's heroes.

Due to recent wars, many in our nation have embraced efforts to support and serve our brave men and women who pledged their lives to defend freedom. This renewed sense of collaboration and civic responsibility can aid efforts to care for Veterans and their families. We must capitalize on this goodwill. Every employee needs to be inspired by the fact that he or she represents a federal agency that has responsibility for taking care of our heroes. There is no greater joy than to meet personnel who recognize why they should care. One way to improve the system is to start an awards competition that celebrates VA facilities that are meeting their goals for serving Veterans. The task is simple. We must make sure that when service members fight for us, we take care of them.

We must remember that even though every VA facility is unique, each facility represents the same body. E pluribus unum: "out of many, one." The Department of Defense has mastered this motto, because it doesn't matter if you are in the Navy, Marines, Air Force, Army, or Coast Guard—you always recognize that the cause you represent is bigger than yourself. You have a creed, a mission, and a model, and there isn't anyone in this world who could attempt to compromise that image. So it seems only right that the same be reflected in the federal agency that cares for those heroes who have completed their duties.

Over the years, I have learned that when people believe in a mission, they put personal feelings aside and focus on common goals; they learn it, they know it, they understand it, and they pursue it. I wonder how many VA employees know about VA's mission? How many VA employees know what image VA represents? I think now is the time to start asking these questions. We must all join in the fight to improve programs and services and lead our Veterans on a journey of hope.