28 March 2014

VA Public Affairs...Where They Fail the Veterans

I am a veteran.

The men and women in the The C-123 Veterans Association are veterans, as are all those we served with over the years. We are their "consumers," we are the final recipients of the professional services of the public affairs staff at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

We are, or we should be, the single most important audience for their professional services. Our needs at least should be of concern to them.

VA public affairs, in communications with us and about us to other audiences, serves our needs. VA public affairs, telling our legislators and the public about it as an institution, serves us. But it doesn't, and it is no way a delivery vehicle for truth.

We are the veterans, so serving us, and serving the VA to better serve us,  should be the role of VA public affairs.

To put it in an aeromedical evacuation context, we are their patients. That I can firmly understand because in aeromedical evacuation, nothing is more important. Nothing else is our focus, and the entire spectrum of what we do is to make that patient come out okay at the other end of our flight. Patients are more than self. The patient is my life and breath, which is why he is entrusted to me. Which is why he knows I'll get him home.

Comrade, ally, civilian, friend or foe...I'll get him home.

So where did VA public affairs become so very tainted and so much unlike us? Why is OPIA so much the servant of the institution that the institution became their only true focus? What happened that my needs as a veteran cannot be trusted to the public affairs staff of the Department of Veterans Affairs, as we learn that OPIA puts VA ahead of the veteran in their mission?

We know, don't we, that nothing, absolutely nothing critical or even mildly corrective would ever be communicated by VA OPIA? We know, don't we, that OPIA would never play a role in a course correction towards more a veteran-friendly Department of Veterans Affairs.

They are institutional professionals. No doubt there, as their various channels of information perform so well. Although folks in the Camp Lejeune CAP would disagree because of the poor communications reported between the CAP and ATSDR and also between CAP and the VA. Still, for their staff and for the budget and for the numbers of employees and veterans, a truly remarkable job. With just under sixty employees they work hard and accomplish much.

We have a problem. It is that we have asked VA Office of Public Affairs and Intergovernmental Relations a question about a scientific issue, that of "exposure." Very, very, very important, because we maintain we were exposed and the VA differs. We need to understand the difference, or otherwise we will continue to be denied VA medical care. That's our important goal. So I asked a simple question about the VA definition of exposure.

In February we were answered with OPIA's comment that we'd already been in communications with what we see as the actual source of our confusion, rather than with an answer of what the public affairs specialist learned and was able to communicate back to us to better serve our needs.

She met the needs of the VA first...that was her first priority, perhaps her only one. She defended the VA with stout resolution. She did not respond herself to my inquiry and she dismissed my needs and the needs of the veterans I work for.

The requested assistance was important, at least to our veterans. This Monday I was a presenter at an international scientific conference and needed to understand VA actions better to more correctly make my presentation and properly inform the scientists I was invited to address. I'd sought a response from VA public affairs because if I was in error regarding issues with the VA and their perspective on our exposures, I needed to understand how and why, and correct my views,  to more honestly and comprehensively make my presentation.

Monday, although without the requested information from VA Public Affairs, I made my presentation and hope I correctly described VA's perspective on exposure.

VA OPIA has also been completely dismissive of C-123 issues brought to them by representatives of the press. Answers to inquiries have been couched to make VA look better, and to form answers to VA administrators' needs rather than what serves us, their veterans.

Someday soon VA will be asked a couple questions: "Why aren't C-123 exposure claims approved?"

To which VA will answer as they have repeatedly, "Claims are considered on a case-by-case basis."

To which the second question: "Then why are all C-123 claims ordered denied by Compensation and Pension and why do claims workers deny vet's claims, stating "regulations prohibit recognizing C-123 exposure claims?"

To wish VA will probably respond, "We'll get back to you" which will never happen.

Deny, deny until they die. Below is OPIA's mission statement. If we were to judge, it would be a partial failure, with their institutional protection overwhelming any honesty or useful communication addressing the needs we've surfaced. Their job clearly has been to glorify VA and its leadership, and they can find nothing to brag about regarding communication with veterans!

Deception, yes. Communication and service, no.
OPIA's mission is to completely change the way we talk to Vets and the media. We want to communicate with each of the over 22 million veterans, their families and their survivors in their preferred medium, tone, time and frequency. We'll get there faster if we go together.

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