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The Secretary's Diversity & Inclusion Excellence Awards Program

The Secretary’s Annual Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Awards Program was established in 1988 to recognize EEO achievements associated with legally-protected classes established by EEO laws. In fiscal year (FY) 2009, the program was redesigned as “The Secretary’s Diversity and Inclusion Excellence Awards Program.” 

The criteria for the Secretary’s Diversity and Inclusion Excellence Awards align with the goals contained in the VA Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan for FY 2017–2020: a diverse workforce, an inclusive workplace, and outstanding public service.

Congratulations to the winners!

Sixth Annual Awards

The nomination period for the Secretary's Sixth Annual Diversity and Inclusion Excellence Awards is now closed! The winners and a description of their accomplishments will be posted here shortly.

Fifth Annual Awards

  • Audrey Oatis-Newsome, Director, Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Employment Program, Veterans Health Administration, Washington, DC (Manager/Supervisor): Ms. Oatis-Newsome is being recognized for initiating and maintaining several innovative equal employment opportunity and diversity and inclusion initiatives throughout the Veterans Health Administration. The Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Employment Office Peer Review, Equal Employment Opportunity Institute, and Equal Employment Opportunity Technical Career Field Program are just a few. Under her leadership, VHA also developed and implemented its own Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan that integrated the goals and objectives of the Department-wide Diversity and Inclusion Plan. Ms. Oatis-Newsome’s vision and guidance allows both VHA and the Department of Veterans Affairs to be a model for diversity and inclusion excellence. Under her direction, for the first time, VHA met the Secretary’s two percent onboard goal for individuals with targeted disabilities as well as the three percent hiring goal for individuals with targeted disabilities. Ms. Oatis-Newsome continues to ensure equal employment opportunity, diversity, and inclusion concepts and principles remain in the forefront of Administration business.
  • Maria Heliana Ramirez, LGBT Staff and Allies Special Emphasis Program Manager, VA Palo Alto Health Care System, Menlo Park Division (Nonsupervisory Employee): Ms. Ramirez has not only taken the lead at Palo Alto in building a diverse workforce inclusive of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) employees but she is also an influential figure in VA Central Office as a member of VA’s National LGBT workgroup. Ms. Ramirez markets VA as an employer of choice to the LGBT community, conducting outreach at LGBT employment fairs and other community events. She works to ensure that her facility is inclusive and that the staff is culturally competent, publishing materials to inform employees about training events and establishing a web page to provide LGBT policies and other LGBT employment-related resources. Ms. Ramirez also creatively manages the LGBT program to conserve VA resources. Ms. Ramirez’s work led to the recognition of the VA Palo Alto Health Care System by the Human Rights Campaign in the annual Healthcare Equality Index. She provides outstanding public service by communicating both the needs and the strengths of the LGBT community as Veterans and as employees in VA, in the military, and on college campuses around the Nation.
  • Southern Arizona VA Health Care System Gathering of Healers Program Planning Team, Veterans Health Administration (Team): The Gathering of Healers Program Planning Team brings employees together in a trusting and respectful atmosphere conducive to team building and collaboration. Participants, representing a cross-section of employees from the medical center’s senior leadership to front line staff, are selected to attend an annual three-and-a-half day training camp. Employees gain insight into both Native American and Veteran culture through Talking Circles and other meditations and ceremonies facilitated by American Indians who are experts in their health care fields. The program focuses on concepts such as listening and open dialogue that can be utilized in the care of our Nation’s Veterans as well as within individual work units among employees. These experiences help develop cultural competency so that employees are better prepared to serve their community and can target outreach to members of populations who historically do not avail themselves of VA services. Members, in alphabetical order by last name, include: Mark Besich, George Campbell, Sharon Hammond, Karen Hebda, Bruce Kafer, Curtis Kekahbah, Rex Kinsey, Katherine Kretschmer, Cindy Mapelli, and Phyllis Spears.

Fourth Annual Awards

  • Perdita Johnson-Abercrombie, Equal Employment Opportunity Manager, National Cemetery Administration (NCA), VA Central Office, Washington, DC (Manager/Supervisor): Ms. Johnson-Abercrombie is being recognized for orchestrating strategies that were instrumental in NCA’s improvement in hiring individuals with disabilities, resulting in NCA appointing more than double the Secretary’s goal of 3% for the hiring of employees with targeted disabilities. Ms. Johnson-Abercrombie launched an awareness program focused on reasonable accommodations (RA) and implemented a RA training program that resulted in 100% of NCA’s managers and supervisors receiving RA training by the end of fiscal year 2013. NCA continues to employ the SES Diversity Accomplishment forums developed by Ms. Johnson-Abercrombie. These forums are used in conjunction with SES performance plans as a method of demonstrating, through metrics, both areas of accomplishment and areas needing improvement during SES rating periods. Ms. Johnson-Abercrombie also marketed NCA’s Cemetery Director Internship Program as a strategy to increase leadership diversity, implemented strategies to resolve workplace disputes, championed the MyCareer@VA program, and partnered with external offices to deliver training focused on barrier analysis and improving respect and civility in the workplace.
  • Leslie R. M. Hausmann, PhD, Research Health Scientist in the Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, Veterans Health Administration, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Nonsupervisory Employee): Dr. Hausmann is being recognized for her efforts to increase the representation of less than expected groups in the health sciences by mentoring diverse students in clinical research activities. She is also being recognized for promoting civility, respect, engagement, and inclusion in the workplace; improving cultural competency through training opportunities; advancing understanding regarding racial and ethnic differences in patient health care experiences within and between VA facilities; improving the quality and equity of blood pressure control among Veterans with hypertension; advancing the science of health equity research; and providing service to the national health equity research community.
  • VISN 8 Diversity & Inclusion Sub-Committee, Veterans Health Administration, in St. Petersburg, Florida (Team): This team is being recognized for their work in championing a diverse workforce by ensuring that Veterans, Disabled Veterans, and individuals with disabilities learn about VA employment opportunities. This team is also being recognized for their work in ensuring that VA is an inclusive workplace by coordinating VISN-wide training opportunities in the areas of cultural competency and prevention of micro-inequities. Team members include (in alphabetical order): Patricia Donaldson, Shelly Flanagin, Patricia Hawk (Co-Chair), Gealdina Irvine, Edwin Johnson, Mary Allen Austria Lausman, Shella Miller (Co-Chair), Sheila O'Hara, and Tonya Wieck.

Third Annual Awards

  • Dr. Rory A. Cooper, VA Senior Research Career Scientist and Director, Human Engineering Research Laboratories, VA Center of Excellence in Wheelchairs Picture of 2011 awardees and Associated Rehabilitation Engineering at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System (Manager/Supervisor): Dr. Cooper is being recognized for his commitment to mentoring students with disabilities (emphasizing Veterans and their children), to improving VA and the University of Pittsburgh to better support Veterans with Disabilities, and to the people with disabilities and Veteran communities. Dr. Cooper developed a transition program for Veterans—Experiential Learning for Veterans in Assistive Technology and Engineering (ELeVATE)—which pairs Veterans with disabilities with professional mentors to excite them about engineering, technical, and healthcare careers. For Veterans who are more interested in a vocational track, he created FATe, Fabrication of Assistive Technology. Dr. Cooper also believes in cultivating a diverse workforce by filling the educational and training pipeline, having established creative formal and informal curricula and training initiatives for students across the educational pipeline as young as middle school. Dr. Cooper was instrumental in creating the Armed Forces Amputee Care Program as well as the U.S. Army and VA Rehabilitation Research and Development Service “State of the Science” Symposium Series. He co-edited the U.S. Army textbook “Care of the Combat Amputee” for the Surgeon General of the U.S. Army and edited the “Warrior Transition Leader Medical Rehabilitation Handbook” for the U.S. Army. Dr. Cooper has been awarded the Distinguished Public Service Award (the Army’s highest award) from the Secretary of the U.S. Army, and received several other awards from the Army and Marine Corps for his contributions. In 2011, Dr. Cooper was inducted into the Pennsylvania Military and Veterans “Hall of Fame”, and awarded the Pennsylvania Meritorious Service Medal by the Governor. Dr. Cooper increases the quality of life of persons and Veterans with disabilities, is a leading researcher who mentors by example, and a person who helps others become successful by providing them with courage to follow their dreams.
  • Dr. Laura Johnson, Clinical Psychologist, Director of Diversity Services, and Transgender Veteran Liaison, Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital, Bedford, Massachusetts (Nonsupervisory Employee): Dr. Johnson is being recognized her work in providing for culturally competent public service. Though primarily her work is with the psychology service, she was given the title Director of Diversity Services and has begun to work outside of the service in support of the mission of diversity and inclusion. Dr. Johnson created and facilitated a therapy group for Transgender Veterans. She continues to supervise trainee facilitators of this therapy group, allowing the hospital to provide a rarely available training experience and to usher more culturally competent clinicians into the field of psychology. Dr. Johnson was named the facility's Transgender Veteran Liaison, and in this role is directly responsible for meeting with transgender Veterans to discuss their healthcare needs and VA resources. She also ensured broader cultural competence training for hospital staff. She coordinated a day of training open to all mental health staff (psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, nurses, and peer providers) called “Do Ask, Do Tell: Working with LGBT Veterans.” Dr. Johnson worked with community stakeholders to form collaborations beneficial to Veterans and, as part of the Multicultural Advisory Committee, she created a list of diverse professional organizations to provide to human resources, the Chief of Staff, and the service chiefs with the goal of ensuring a diverse candidate pool for the hospital’s workforce. Dr. Johnson is a dedicated staff member who consistently strives to provide better access to high-quality VA care.
  • The Equal Employment Opportunity Committee at the Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital in Columbia, Missouri (Team). The team members are (in alphabetical order): Machelle Dykstra, Leigh Anne Fleck, Vicki J. Freelon, L. Stephen Gaither, James E. Grady, Sara Hake, Veronica Ramnarine, Darlayna Scott, Annette Velasco, Michael E. Whittier, and Paula D. Williams: This team is being recognized for their work in championing a diverse and inclusive workplace through collaborative opportunities, leadership development, succession planning, and diversity awareness activities. Truman VA's Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Program is the 2012 recipient of the Columbia Values Diversity organization/group award. In 2009, the Committee collaborated with human resources to host a disability employment networking event. As a result of this initial outreach event, Truman VA established ongoing relationships with several community resources that have resulted in successful hiring practices. In addition, Truman VA's EEO Committee provides ongoing training opportunities for supervisors and staff on hiring people with disabilities, using schedule A hiring authorities and reasonable accommodations. Truman VA's EEO Committee strives to achieve an inclusive organization that functions as a responsible community partner by pursuing opportunities to work with local schools, community-based organizations, and professional associations to expand outreach to diverse communities, broaden opportunities, enhance access, and promote cultural awareness. Truman VA's EEO Committee regularly participates in other local recruitment and career fairs and connects with a diverse range of cultures, generations, and backgrounds within the community to increase awareness of VA career opportunities and health care services. Committee members also participate in facility and VISN LEAD programs, Leadership Columbia, the Technical Career Field program, and have completed VHA coaching/mentoring training in order to develop themselves as leaders and role models, and to champion these programs to others. The EEO Committee’s ongoing commitment to building a diverse, high-performing workforce; cultivating a flexible, collaborative and inclusive work environment; and facilitating outstanding, culturally competent public service exemplifies VA’s goals to promote diversity and inclusion in the Federal workforce.

Second Annual Awards

  • Terry Gerigk Wolf (Manager/Supervisor): Mrs. Wolf is being recognized for her outstanding leadership and commitment to fostering a Picture of 2011 awardeesdiverse workforce and an inclusive work environment at VAPHS. Under Mrs. Wolf’s leadership, VAPHS is active in succession planning and has enacted numerous programs to ensure that employees can bolster their professional skills. Mrs. Wolf also supports flexible scheduling to help employees enhance productivity while accommodating their educational and personal goals. In addition to being a tireless advocate for educating employees, Mrs. Wolf is also greatly concerned with communicating with all VAPHS stakeholders. Her management style champions communication, which she sees as vital to ensuring that all employees feel included and engaged in the conversations at VA Pittsburgh. She uses a number of innovative communication methods to promote a culture of open communication and inclusion among her 3,704 employees. These include a “Director’s Page” on VA Pittsburgh’s Intranet site—which includes a compliments page, blog, message board, and an archive of every all-employee email message sent from the Director’s signature. Mrs. Wolf is a VA leader whose actions serve as a model for diversity and inclusion excellence as she continues to make invaluable contributions to furthering the Department’s goals in these areas and to ensuring equal opportunity.
  • Novella Brown Scott (Nonsupervisory Employee): When it comes to the diversity and inclusion arena, Picture of 2011 awardeesMs. Scott has embraced the concept of shared leadership in her role as a Vocational Rehabilitation Specialist within the CAVHCS, Mental Health-Residential Rehabilitation Treatment Program (MH-RRTP). She shines as a beacon of hope to encourage Disabled Veterans that they can be positive contributors in the workplace and has dedicated herself to conveying this message to them as well as to CAVHCS staff, stakeholders, communities, and even potential employers. Ms. Scott was instrumental in the development of various programs and initiatives to aid homeless and unemployed Veterans and Disabled Veterans, such as a “Ready to Work” training and skills program for unemployed Disabled Veterans. She also helped to develop the first MH-RRTP Women’s Focus Group and the first MH-RRTP Annual Prom in an effort to recognize the service of women Veterans and promote positive awareness of homeless Veterans seeking employment by ensuring participation of positive community leaders. Ms. Scott worked to remove the stigma and barriers associated with the equal opportunity employment of homeless Veterans and coordinated various trainings to understand disabilities, decrease stigma, and emphasize the desire for community employment by people with disabilities. Ms. Scott is a hidden treasure within the walls of CAVHCS and is the manifestation of the organization’s leadership drive to meet the vision of the Department of Veterans Affairs to create and sustain a high-performing workforce by leveraging diversity and empowering employees to achieve superior results in service to our Nation’s Veterans.
  • VISN 16 Diversity Advisory Committee, South Central VA Health Care Network, Ridgeland, MS (Team): Picture of 2011 awardees The VISN 16 Diversity Advisory Committee is being recognized for their outstanding efforts to promote diversity and inclusion throughout the entire South Central VA Health Care Network. The Committee took creative action knowing that a diverse workforce and an inclusive work environment are essential to a high-performing organization. They developed, signed, and executed a Diversity Contract aimed at creating and sustaining a high-performing workforce by leveraging diversity and empowering all employees to achieve superior results in service to our Nation’s Veterans and leadership accountability in these areas. The Committee also created a Diversity Web page to facilitate communication: the VISN Director can post monthly messages and all employees can submit ideas for improvements and share thoughts about how to create the best workplace cultures. Their proactive commitment also led them to establish the goal of critically evaluating their VISN data and to identify opportunities for continuous improvement in the areas of representation, recruitment, and retention. The VISN 16 Diversity Advisory Committee serves as a model of excellence for their creative and innovative approaches to VA’s diversity and inclusion goals.

First Annual Awards

Picture of 2010 awardees

Caption: Georgia Coffey (far left) and Ralph Torres (far right) with the 2010 Diversity and Inclusion and Alternative Dispute Resolution Excellence Award recipients.

  • Adam Walmus (Manage/Supervisor): Mr. Walmus is currently the new director of the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston, Texas. He was recognized as the former director of the VA Medical Center in Muskogee, Oklahoma, for his focus on cultural diversity awareness that helped to ensure that a wide-range of perspectives was incorporated when addressing issues and concerns related to the delivery of high-quality care to America’s Veterans. In addition, Mr. Walmus made participation in the Student Career Experience Program (SCEP) a high priority, increasing the number of students involved in the facility’s program from just five in fiscal year (FY) 2006 to 25 in FY 2009, the highest number of SCEP interns among all VA medical centers!
  • Jeanette Goff (Nonsupervisory Employee): Ms. Goff, Medical Support Assistant at the VA Sierra Nevada Health Care System in Reno, Nevada, was recognized for her creative ideas on educating and training an employee with visual impairment to perform the work of a medical support assistant. In addition to working directly with the low-vision employee, Ms. Goff worked with call center team members to identify unspoken assumptions, differing values, and initial resistance related to working with persons with a visual disability. As a direct result of her efforts, the low-vision employee can now perform competently and professionally the functions of this job, and the call center team members know what people can do is much more important than what they can’t do.
  • Office of Health Information Management, Medical Record Technicians unit at the Charles George VA Medical Center in Asheville, North Carolina (Ryl Giacchetta accepted on behalf of the Team): Ms. Giacchetta accepted the team award on behalf of the Office of Health Information Management, Medical Record Technicians unit at the Charles George VA Medical Center in Asheville, North Carolina. The unit was responsible for translating medical care services provided to Veterans into billable codes recognized by third-party health insurers. Over the past three years, members of the coding unit have overcome individual differences in order to become a unified team, working together efficiently and effectively to focus on their shared goals. In addition to deliberate efforts to build camaraderie, the coding unit has benefited from increased training and expanded communications, both internal and external. The performance of the coding unit has also improved as a result of increased flexibility in how, when, and where work gets done. Their accuracy rate has climbed from 75 percent to 90 percent, and other facilities are now asking them for assistance with their coding concerns.