I had taken on many names by the time I turned 25. I’d been “midshipman” at age 17 and “junior officer” at 21. I had been called “Qualified 16-30,” “L.T.,” “intel officer of the watch,” and once, at a NATO headquarters in Kosovo, “that American commander’s deputy.” But after six years with the US Navy, I was about to give up all those names and take on one that sounded unfamiliar and, to be honest, unsettling: “veteran.”
When was the last time you heard a story about a well-adjusted veteran? Someone who came home from deployments in far away places, jumped back into society, and thrived in a new field of work? I hadn’t heard many, either. As of 2014, there were an estimated 50,000 homeless veterans living in the United States. By 2017, 600,000 of us may be without health insurance. Some of us will never feel like we belong—not with stats like these.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) exists to help make the transition from active duty as seamless as possible. I started my own transition without health insurance, and the VA was there to assist. Had I needed help to manage PTSD, the VA would have been there for that, too. It helped me pay for graduate school, which is how I found my way toward a new career and a new family at Medallia. Without the VA, I can’t be sure I would ever have found where I belong. The VA is a truly special organization with special people, employees who have chosen service to others as their life’s work.
I often hear small success stories like my own, but there is still work to be done. In 2015, the number of veterans who were waiting over a month for VA care increased by 50 percent from 2014. What would happen if VA employees had the insights and tools to listen to veterans’ needs and concerns in real time? At home on the West Coast, my father had no idea that the VA could help cover his hearing loss. He piloted EA-6B Prowlers for the Marines, jamming enemy communications over Vietnam, and it wasn’t until a few months ago that he realized he should check in at the VA for deployment-related care. Why were our experiences so different? How much more could the VA accomplish if everyone in the organization could understand my father’s experience versus my own?
The VA has made significant investments in technology, Medallia included, in its commitment to systematically transforming the Veteran experience. Soon, 300,000 employees at VA hospitals, clinics, and vet centers will have access to real-time feedback from veterans through Medallia. They will have best-in-class tools at their disposal to understand the needs of veterans and provide necessary care more quickly.
People have told me I don’t look like a veteran. Why? Because I’m a woman. Because I look young. Because I suffer no disability. But I am a veteran, proudly so. You may not recognize me because we aren’t cut from anything—physical or political: what we share is that we volunteered to serve. And by partnering with Medallia, the VA will hear us—all of us. I’m proud that my company’s first public partner in customer experience is none other than the Department of Veterans Affairs. Let’s build a world where each generation of veterans receives better care than the last, and where those who deliver that care have everything they need to succeed.