Document Name: Veterans (12 of 23)
Date: 09/01/94
Owner: National Performance Review
Title: Standards for Our Customers: Veterans (12 of 23)

Author: Vice President Al Gore's National Performance Review

Date: September, 1994




Therese Aprile works in the Veterans Affairs benefits office in New

York City. The way she does her work represents what could be one of

the best things that ever happened to U.S. veterans. At the very

least, it is one of the best things that ever happened to Len Davis.

Davis was wounded during his first tour in Vietnam. He finished his

second tour toward the end of 1969. In the years that followed, he

contacted Veterans Affairs in a number of locations, starting with

the medical center in Washington, D.C. Later, it was benefits offices

around the country. Wherever he went, VA promised to help, but Davis

says there were always problems. "I never dealt with the same person

twice, and every time I got transferred on the phone or had to call

back the second or third time, I had to start all over again

explaining the situation, the story, and it was frustrating."

Then he moved to New York City, expecting the same or worse. But when

Davis called to get an update on a hospitalization claim, he noticed

a difference right away. "She introduced herself over the phone. . .

. Therese Aprile told me that she'd be my contact person, I could get

back in touch with her with any questions I had. I thought, something

strange and different's going on here."

With time, Davis became a big fan of VA. He says, "Therese always got

back in touch with me. When she told me she'd get an answer, she got

an answer. When I left a message . . . she called me back, and it was

a very big difference."

The New York office is a VA reinvention lab -- a place to try out new

ideas. One of those ideas is putting customers first, reorganizing

how the office works so that employees focus on what veterans want,

not on old rules for how to do things. The idea is working. Veterans

are happy, employees are happy, and the work gets done faster.

But New York is only one office in one part of VA. There are

thousands of other places where VA contacts its customers. Some of

these places have already established their own brand of customer

service reinvention. Others are sorting out what their customers want

and how to make changes. There is also an agencywide rallying cry,

"Putting Veterans First." And all of VA's major service organizations

are publishing standards that veterans can use to judge how the part

of VA that they need measures up.

The Veterans Benefits Administration provides compensation and

pension benefits to over 2.5 million veterans. It also provides death

benefits to nearly three-quarters of a million veterans' survivors.

The agency is looking at the lessons from its New York office and

combining that experience with other reinvention ideas. It is getting

customer input from surveys and focus groups. One thing it learned is

that its internal performance measures don't cover all the areas that

matter to veterans -- such as being treated with courtesy and

respect. This and other customer needs are reflected in the agency's

new service standards.

The National Cemetery System maintains all 114 national cemeteries,

as well as providing burial services, headstones, markers, and burial

flags. Affording veterans dignity and honor in their final resting

place is the solemn promise of the National Cemetery System. Its

customer service standards focus on that promise.

The Veterans Health Administration is one of the nation's largest

providers of health care. Last year it treated over 1 million

inpatients and provided 24 million episodes of outpatient care in its

172 medical centers, 357 outpatient clinics, 130 nursing homes, and

200 veterans centers.


Highlights from Customer Service Standards:

Veterans Benefits Administration


These are examples of veterans service standards being published by

the Veterans Benefits Administration:

--- We will treat customers with courtesy, compassion, and respect at

all times.

--- We will communicate with customers accurately, completely, and

clearly by keeping the customer informed on the status of the claim

or request and clearly explaining all reasons for decisions.

--- We will answer or acknowledge benefit inquiries within 10 work


--- We will interview customers at our offices within 30 minutes of


National Cemetery System


These are examples of the customer service standards of the National

Cemetery System:

--- We will deliver service in a manner reflecting compassion and

respect for you and your family in a time of need.

--- We will maintain the appearance of individual gravesites,

headstones, markers, and monuments in a manner befitting these

national shrines.

Veterans Health Administration


The Veterans Health Administration's customer service standards

spring directly from what customers in focus groups said matter most.

--- We will treat you with courtesy and dignity.

--- We will provide you with timely access to health care.

--- We will involve you in decisions about your care.

--- We will take responsibility for coordination of your care.

--- We will provide opportunities to involve your family in your


--- We will provide smooth transition between your inpatient and

outpatient care.


As VHA puts more effort into listening to customers, it is learning

more and more about what is important to veterans and their families.

For example, VHA had pretty much assumed that hospitalized veterans

cared a lot about hotel-type amenities, like food quality. Focus

groups of recently discharged patients said that these things matter,

but only up to a point; how well patients are treated matters more.

Some officials had also believed that veterans didn't mind time spent

waiting to see doctors because it gave them a chance to swap stories

with other veterans. However, the focus groups revealed that

veterans, like most Americans, don't want to wait for service.

The Veterans Health Administration is putting this customer input to

work. It has established a National Customer Feedback Center and has

developed ongoing surveys to track how it is doing. To compare

results with customers receiving care in the community, VHA is using

the same survey questions as the Harvard Community Health Plan and



Your Standards

These agencies and offices are publishing customer service standards

for veterans. The standards appear in the "Veterans" section of

Appendix B.

Department of Defense

Defense Finance and Accounting Service

Personnel and Readiness

Department of Labor

Veterans' Employment and Training Service

Department of Veterans Affairs

Board of Veterans' Appeals

National Cemetery System

Veterans Benefits Administration

Veterans Canteen Service

Veterans Health Administration

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