Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The VA's Problem with Perception

Yesterday it came out in the news that in December 2014, a VA social work manager at the VA Medical Center in Indianaoplis sent photos around to her coworkers that appeared to be mocking veterans - in particular those with mental health conditions.  The email showed photos of an elf in various scenes in a specific clinic at the hospital.  One photo showed the elf begging for more Xanax with a caption that indicated the elf was trying to self-medicate.  Another photo in the email showed an elf apparently hanging itself by the neck from a strand of Christmas lights and was captioned that the elf was now showing suicidal behavior.

While the employee has apologized and reiterated her committment to veterans, one is forced to ask how the VA can continually fail to see its reputation being tarnished by these reports? 22 veterans commit suicide every day.  This email seems far from harmless when viewed in light of that statistic.  While I have no doubt that most VA employees take the issue of veterans' mental health treatment seriously, it is pretty obvious the culture at this VA hospital clinic does not - not when the manager doesn't think twice about joking about it.

 How can veterans perceive that the VA wants to help when a manager makes remarks that appear to denegrate the circumstances surrounding the veterans' concerns?  To make it worse, the remarks come from the manager, who sets the culture, in charge of primary care services surrounding reintegration of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans from war to home.  Some might remember the story last summer of the VA briefing at one hospital that compared veterans to Oscar the Grouch when giving advice to VA employees on interacting with veterans.  http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/aug/27/va-office-depicts-veterans-oscar-grouch/  These types of swipes at veterans really demonstrate the VA is tonedeaf while it is trying to rebuild its reptuation amongst veterans after the Pheonix VA Medical Center fiasco.  

Perhaps before veterans adjust their perception of the VA, the VA needs to take a hard look at its perception of veterans and their concerns.  

For the story on the elf emails see:





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