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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 selection in furthering the goals of diversity and inclusion are based on individuals’ and teams’ demonstrated efforts in growing a diverse, high-performing workforce that reflects all segments of our society and values all aspects of our human diversity; cultivating an inclusive work environment and creating an engaged organization that leverages diversity and empowers all contributors; and facilitating outstanding, responsive public service.

Congratulations to the winners!

Eighth Annual Awards

The Eighth Annual Secretary’s Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Awards Program nomination period is closed. 

Seventh Annual Awards

  • Fernando O. Rivera, Medical Center Director, Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System, Veterans Health Administration (Manager/Supervisor):
    Picture of 2019 awardee Fernando O. Rivera is consistent in fostering a diverse workforce and an inclusive work environment. Mr. Rivera’s focus areas—activation, access and workforce—are the driving force behind the health care system’s two key operating strategies: engagement and performance. Mr. Rivera ensures that the Veteran experience at the medical center includes safety and consists of high-quality, personalized, and timely care provided by employees who are culturally competent, high-performing, and valued as part of the organization’s ever-evolving culture, a culture that thrives on providing exceptional patient-centered care for our Nation’s heroes. Mr. Rivera demonstrates a twenty-four hour, seven-days-a-week, 100 percent commitment to diversity and inclusion, resulting in the creation of Cultural Competency training for staff. Due to the demand and popularity of this training by managers, it became a part of the facility’s Supervisors 201 curricula. This training supports engagement, the first of the two key strategies for the health care system, and provides supervisors the tools to mentor employees who communicate, operate, and reflect a Veteran-centric environment that encourages diversity and inclusion. Mr. Rivera’s allegiance to Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System’s diversity and inclusion culture ensures the facility is regarded not only as an employer of choice, but a health care provider of choice for our Nation’s heroes.
  • James W. Zipadelli, Technical Writer, Office of Construction & Facilities Management (Nonsupervisory Employee):
    Picture of 2019 awardee James Zipadelli is a Technical Writer for the Office of Construction & Facilities Management (CFM) where he administers an enterprise-wide policy and standard operating procedure management program. Mr. Zipadelli joined CFM in 2012 and, since then, has consistently proven himself a champion of VA’s I CARE values and workplace diversity and inclusion. Ancillary to his core responsibilities, Mr. Zipadelli developed the HOPE Program, dedicated to “Helping Organizations Pursue Excellence” in the recruitment and retention of persons with disabilities. He proposed the program to CFM executives in June 2017 and it was immediately formally adopted. The HOPE Program was born from Mr. Zipadelli’s own experience as he struggled to obtain clear and reliable information on the Schedule A hiring process despite contacting Selective Placement Program Coordinators at a dozen agencies. Mr. Zipadelli created the HOPE Program to ensure that individuals with disabilities receive dignified and fair treatment, and ample opportunity in pursuit of federal employment by acknowledging and resolving attitudinal and institutional challenges.
  • Alaina Taylor, Administrative Officer, Behavioral Health Service, Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center, Veterans Health Administration (Equal Employment Opportunity or Diversity and Inclusion Practitioner):
    Picture of 2019 awardee Serving as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Special Emphasis Program Manager and LGBT Veteran Care Coordinator for Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center, Alaina Taylor dedicated her time, talents, and resources to increase awareness of gender diversity and strengthen the culture of inclusion at her facility and throughout the Inland Northwest. Her diligent work enabled VA to reach thousands of members of the Spokane region with a message of inclusion. Ms. Taylor took initiative to speak in multiple venues, providing training on serving and supporting LGBT Veterans and their families to more than 750 VA employees as well as regional healthcare providers, community agencies, state VA representatives, and Native American tribal partners. Ms. Taylor provided strong leadership in rallying support for LGBT Veterans from VA and community stakeholders alike. In addition to her productive work with facility and community partners, the hallmark of Ms. Taylor’s advocacy for inclusiveness was her constant readiness to make herself available to help any individual LGBT Veteran or VA employee find quick support, solutions, and resources. Overall, Ms. Taylor’s tireless efforts led to a new, inclusive VA presence among the Spokane community as well as greater support for all Veterans, including members of the LGBT community, throughout the region.
  • VA Western New York Healthcare System, Health Equity Committee, Veterans Health Administration (Team):
    Picture of 2019 awardee The VA Western New York Health Equity Committee champions the principles of diversity and inclusion and ensures they are woven into the foundation of care provided to Veterans and their families, and the atmosphere of the VA Western New York Healthcare System. This committee, the only known and established VHA “health equity” committee at a facility level, proactively addressed issues including health care disparities and lack of diversity in key clinical occupations. The committee also created partnerships with healthcare providers in the community to foster engagement in Veteran healthcare and provide expert education on emerging and timely topics for VHA employees and others. The committee exemplifies VA’s commitment to bettering Veteran care and the I CARE values through accomplishments in the areas of recruitment, workforce and Veteran education, and other Veteran-centric initiatives. In addition, the committee is used as a venue to discuss and address other referred issues such as physical conditions in outlying clinics affecting patient satisfaction and equal access to care. What this committee has been able to accomplish at one medical center by thinking outside the box should serve as a model for all facilities. Members of the VA Western New York Health Equity Committee include Dr. Ursuline Bankhead, Fern Beavers, Michelle Alt, Dr. Joshua Malecki, Shamale McMillan, Joyelle Hackett, Carol Griffith, and Terence McGuire.

Sixth Annual Awards

  • Kara Merendo, EEO Manager, Workforce Management and Consulting, EEO/Affirmative Employment Office, VHA (EEO/D&I Practitioner): Kara Merendo orchestrated Veterans Health Administration (VHA) activities on a national level to ensure that the Administration achieved consistent, effective, and efficient diversity and inclusion and equal employment opportunity (EEO) program management across the Nation’s largest integrated health care system. She played a key role in the development and execution of various Department and Administration diversity, inclusion, and EEO strategic planning activities, including the update and distribution of the Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2016 through 2021 by the VHA Special Emphasis Program Advisory Committee (SEPAC). She developed and communicated strategies and best practices to SEPAC members, Special Emphasis Program Managers (SEPMs), EEO Managers, and leadership to increase outreach to members of communities with less than expected workforce participation. Additionally, she fostered partnerships with affinity organizations, professional associations, and educational institutions focused on those groups. She assisted in implementing diversity-focused internship and fellowship programs and also managed the EEO Technical Career Field Program. Her work supported VHA placements of individuals with targeted disabilities into positions with promotion potential and thereby contributed to VHA exceeding established hiring and on-board goals for individuals with targeted disabilities. She ensured that VHA EEO and diversity and inclusion staff, including EEO Managers, SEPMs, and Selective Placement Coordinators, were properly trained and aware of their various roles and responsibilities. She supported SEPs, employee affinity groups, and resource groups, and expanded these groups to represent new, emerging aspects of diversity such as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT). Finally, she worked to ensure that the needs of VA’s diverse customers were met by finalizing the Limited English Proficiency Frequently Asked Questions booklet.
  • Mary Allen Austria Lausman, Administrative Officer, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Service, Gainesville VA Medical Center, VHA (Manager/Supervisor): Mary Allen Austria Lausman is chair of the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System Diversity Council and an active member of the Veterans Integrated Service Network 8 (VISN8) Diversity and Inclusion Sub-committee. She is dedicated to VAy’s succession planning efforts by ensuring the success of future VA administrative and clinical leaders. Ms. Lausman provided valuable coaching, mentoring, and résumé review to work-study administrative interns and assistants from undergraduate programs at local universities and colleges. Her work as a member of the All Employee Survey Team for the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System led to the development of an evaluation model adopted by leadership and human resources staff to determine how services were functioning, as well as ways to improve in areas such as productivity, engagement, and psychological safety. Ms. Lausman is a champion for individuals with disabilities and works to ensure that they have the opportunity to be effective and successful members of the VA workforce. Recognizing a gap in leadership training opportunities as a potential barrier, Ms. Lausman also developed and managed the Emerging Leaders Training Program. Additionally, she developed standardized training for new SEPM chairs and co-chairs that helped to translate each SEPM’s passion and commitment into strong special emphasis programing results. As Acting LGBT SEPM, Ms. Lausman worked to ensure that the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System became a Health Equity Index Leader. She also worked with the LGBT sub-committee to ensure that the first large LGBT event at the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System was a success following the Orlando nightclub tragedy on October 12, 2016.
  • Monica Jones, Patient Services Assistant, Jackson VA Medical Center, VHA (Nonsupervisory Employee): Monica Jones is an advocate and mentor for students and employees, as well as for individuals with disabilities. As the Individuals with Disabilities Program Manager, Ms. Jones was instrumental in numerous collaborations with human resources staff such as leading an effort to establish and maintain a file of applicants of individuals with disabilities, including Disabled Veterans; attending career fairs such as those at Historically Black Colleges and Universities to promote employment of individuals with disabilities; and training managers, supervisors, and employees on Schedule A appointments, the Federal hiring process, and the Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP). She also served as a recruiter for WRP, interviewing and counseling college students and recent graduates for employment in both the Federal and private sector. Ms. Jones was extremely involved with the School At Work (SAW) program to place entry-level employees from various backgrounds on the healthcare career path. Ms. Jones mentored SAW alumni, other employees, as well as students in both personal and career development. She helped to coordinate training on performance-based interviewing among entry-level SAW employees, employees with disabilities, and Veterans, all of which helped to raise awareness about the significance of implementing standardized interviewing processes and questions. Ms. Jones served as an active committee member on the Diversity Advisory Council. She also identified and worked to address instances of less than expected representation and barriers to employment, retention, and advancement.
  • VA Mid-Atlantic Health Care Network VISN 6 Transgender Treatment Team, VHA (Team): Members of the VA Mid-Atlantic Health Care Network VISN 6 Transgender Treatment Team dedicated themselves to employee education, Veteran care, and community outreach at the W.G. (Bill) Hefner/Salisbury VA Medical Center. Team members provided education and cultural sensitivity training to clinical trainees who continue to provide quality services to LGBT Veterans as full-time employees upon graduation. Certified to deliver MIL-X training on military culture, team members expanded the now-mandatory training to include relevant information on military LGBT history and culture. Team members also collaborated with the facility’s Peer Support Specialist Coordinator to help a transgender Veteran enroll as a Certified Peer Specialist, implemented the LGBT Veteran Care Coordinator position and the LGBT Special Emphasis Program, networked with Chaplain Service to increase the availability of spiritual resources for LGBT Veterans, and worked with the Minority Veterans Program and the Individuals with Disabilities Program to recognize and respond to the needs of LGBT staff and Veterans who identified as members of one or more of these other groups. Team members coordinated with the Homeless Veteran program, Suicide Prevention, Military Sexual Trauma, and Women’s Veterans Program to identify, promote, and train specialists in transgender health care within each program. Members of the Transgender Treatment Team include Dr. John Hall, Dr. Stephanie Muff, Dr. Nancy Furst, Dr. Lisa Israel, Dr. Audrey Atkinson, Dr. Kristie Earnheart, Dr. Kara Felton, Dr. Lorraine Gauthier, Ms. Tiffany Hall, Dr. Elizabeth Howarth, Dr. Simone Hunter, Ms. Casie Miltz, Dr. Amy Smith, Dr. Keisha Smith, and Ms. Rebecca Anne Stickel.

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.