When it comes to keeping our promises to the men and women who’ve served, DAV has some of the most thoughtful and compassionate professionals and care providers in the world working alongside them to ensure mission accomplishment. With this in mind, each year DAV recognizes some of the top contributors with an award from DAV’s National Commander, presented at the National Convention. This year’s honorees will receive their awards from DAV National Commander Moses A. McIntosh Jr. At the 95th National Convention in Atlanta.
Veterans Benefits Administration
The 2016 DAV National Commander’s Award for Outstanding Department of Veterans Affairs employee within the Veterans Benefits Administration is Bobby Hall, of the VA Regional Office in Louisville, Ky.
Hall, a decorated combat veteran, retired from the U.S. Air Force in 2007 after 20 years of honorable service. He began his career with the VA in January 2014, serving as a veterans service representative. Hall would remain in that position until taking over his current role as terminal veterans coordinator in June 2015.
As the Louisville VA Regional Office’s terminal veterans coordinator, Hall has visited veterans in the local VA medical centers, sometimes on his own time, to ensure a claim has been properly filled out. He also works with veterans’ families and physicians in developing the facts necessary for proper adjudication of claims.
“Once the appropriate paperwork has been secured, he works ceaselessly with his peers in the VA to get a fast and accurate decision,” said Richard Vaccari, National Service Officer Supervisor.
There is one case in particular that represents the passion and dedication Hall shows toward veterans daily. Hall received a notification on a Friday afternoon of a terminally ill veteran. He was able to determine that the veteran was located at the Hospice unit at the Louisville VAMC. On his own time, he drove over to the hospital to meet the veteran and his family. He explained what documentation would be needed to complete a claim. The family stated they had the paperwork at home, so Hall returned to the hospital Saturday morning to collect the paperwork and walked the veteran through to the final processing of benefits within just three hours.
“The National Service Officers in Louisville know if you bring one of these cases to Mr. Hall, it will be completed quickly,” said Vaccari. “It is agreed upon by all here in the Louisville VA Regional Office who have worked with Mr. Hall that he is a person who will go over and above to provide assistance to local veterans.”
Veterans Health Administration
The Outstanding Veterans Health Administration Employee this year is Dr. Murray Altose, chief of staff at the Cleveland VA Medical Center.
Altose has devoted his life to veterans for nearly 30 years, and he has served them in virtually every capacity possible for a physician in academic medicine: leadership in administration, education, research and clinical practice.
His systemic implementation of 131 Patient Aligned Care Teams at 14 locations was nationally recognized and had provided a seamless patient experience for more than 112,000 veterans. Altose also developed the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Program to include care for combat-injured veterans with polytrauma and traumatic brain injury. Further, he established the 16-bed inpatient Blind Rehabilitation Center, a 28,000-square-foot, state-of- the-art facility that serves veterans throughout the region, and instituted the 30-bed Long-Term Spinal Cord Injury Care Unit, dedicated to veterans with spinal cord injuries who need long-term nonacute medical care.
The Cleveland VAMC also currently houses 10 Clinical Centers of Excellence, which is more than any other VA medical center in the country. Altose has led the medical center to exceed the VHA’s inpatient satisfaction goal and has led them to be one of only two VHA facilities to maintain a five-star quality rating for the past five years.
“He is the consummate health care professional in his role as hospital leader, perpetual educator and practiced researcher, continually improving the lives of all veterans entrusted with his care,” said Cleveland VAMC Director Susan M. Fuehrer. “He is an asset not only to the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center and the VA but to the entire practice of medicine in the United States. Many of the sophisticated programs and new models of care offered to veterans in VHA would not exist without his leadership.”
National Cemetery Administration
DAV member and Army veteran Srey M. Austin is this year’s VA National Cemetery Administration Employee of the Year.
She serves veterans, their families and survivors as director of Black Hills National Cemetery in Sturgis, S.D., where she is responsible for all burial, maintenance and administrative operations.
Austin took over as the cemetery’s director in May 2014 and has daily contact with her local community. She addresses their concerns, resolves complaints and assists visitors to ensure a high level of customer service and satisfaction is not only achieved but also maintained.
She is directly involved with the oversight of several current and upcoming construction and service contracts, including the millennium Raise and Realignment project at Black Hills and Hot Springs national cemeteries, including more than 14,000 headstones, new turf and renovation of well over 75 acres. She is simultaneously creating and establishing the budget for Yellowstone National Cemetery, the first rural national cemetery, in Laurel, Mont.
“DAV is an organization of veterans serving veterans, and DAV member Srey Austin is a perfect example of this motto,” said McIntosh. “It’s comforting for all of us here at DAV and the veteran community to know that a fellow veteran is there and can be counted on during a family’s time of need.”
Local Veterans Employment Representative
The 2016 DAV National Commander’s Award for the Outstanding Local Veterans Employment Representative goes to Robert Hetzel, of Temple, Texas.
Hetzel is a 23-year Army veteran and is assigned to the Central Texas region, which encompasses Austin and surrounding areas.
Hetzel contacted more than 192 employers to advocate for veteran job-seekers and averages 29 employment referrals each month. Last year alone, Hetzel helped nearly 100 veterans, almost half of whom are disabled, secure meaningful employment.
“Robert has a very tangible passion for his work,” said McIntosh. “He has built invaluable partnerships and networks in his region that allow him to connect with employers seeking the unique talents of veterans.”
Hetzel also developed six workshops, including a Public Employers Information Session for veterans given by multiple cities, counties and federal government entities regarding their employment opportunities. This provided veterans in attendance with direct access to extensive tips, information, job opportunities and guidance on the application process for each employer present.
“Robert makes a real difference for disabled veterans looking for work,” said Jeff Hall, DAV National Director of Employment. “He is a staunch advocate for the capabilities veterans bring to the workforce, largely because he’s a veteran himself. We’re very proud of his noble work and honored to recognize what he does.”
Outstanding Disabled Veterans Outreach Program Specialist
Robert Singer, of Fredericksburg, Va., was awarded the 2016 DAV National Commander’s Award for Outstanding Disabled Veterans Outreach Program Specialist.
Singer is a disabled veteran outreach specialist with the Virginia Employment Commission. He is responsible for developing numerous unique programs designed to assist veterans in finding fulfilling employment, including a resume training aid, and is actively involved in eradicating veteran homelessness in his area.
“Robert’s hardworking reputation makes him a sought-after commodity in his community, especially at military transition centers and with employers seeking veteran talent,” said McIntosh.
The Virginia Employment Commission stated that in 2015 alone, Singer provided 268 veterans with nearly 3,000 documented services.
“Robert has tackled issues unique to veterans head-on,” said DAV Employment Director Hall. “He serves in some capacity on just about every local or civic-related group in his community and uses this network to widen his net in the referrals and services he can provide veterans and their families.”
Singer spent 30 years serving in the Marine Corps before retiring as a sergeant major. His career included two tours of duty in Vietnam, where he was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds sustained in combat.
Small Employer of the Year
Veteran Energy, a Houston-based company that makes it a part of their business strategy to hire veterans, received the 2016 DAV Small Employer of the Year award.
Veteran Energy is a commercial industrial and residential electricity provider and was selected from more than a dozen other businesses nationally with fewer than 200 employees.
“The transition to civilian life isn’t complete until veterans who are able to work are employed,” said McIntosh. “Veteran Energy knows that hiring veterans isn’t an act of charity. It’s good for a company’s bottom line and the right thing to do.”
More than 9 in 10 employees at Veteran Energy served in the military. The company provides a comprehensive training program to ensure their veteran hires have all of the essential skills to be successful in the Texas electricity market. Veteran Energy has partnered with local VA offices and the city leadership of Houston to ensure transitioning veterans and veterans who are at risk of becoming homeless do not have their electricity turned off.
“My company and personal mission have become much more than selling power since 2010,” said Veteran Energy founder and President Kevin Barber, who is himself an Army veteran. “It is truly a social enterprise, and our mission is vital to this community.
“It’s about assisting that combat Army veteran and mother of two children who has her lights turned off and can’t pay the bill. We are the ones who turn them on and get her immediate needs assistance utilizing our network. It’s about the Navy veteran who needed a car; we utilized our resources to assist and get her a car for transporting her and her children to school. These are just a few of the successes we have experienced since I started this company, and we have many more to come.”
Medium Employer of the Year
DAV’s Medium Employer of the Year is Z Systems Corp., a company that specializes in logistics engineering, information technology and international development. The company supports the Department of Defense.
Based out of Killeen, Texas, Z Systems’ workforce is made up of 63 percent veterans, and 25 percent of their total employees are disabled veterans.
“Z Systems Corp. routinely executes large recruiting efforts for add-on missions to current contracts,” said CEO Michael McCoy. “During these efforts, Z Systems expedites veteran resumes through the application process when their military occupational specialty from their military years aligns with the open positions. We recognize that these individuals require less training, less clearance effort and an expedited ability to perform job functions faster than civilian personnel who are not veterans.”
The abundant veteran presence in the organization contributes to a culture of camaraderie and teamwork that is not only advantageous to the company but directly benefits the veteran employees as well. Further, when promotion opportunities become available within the organization, they conduct internal boards where each individual’s military skills and company experience factor into the career advancement decisions.
“This company illustrates what we already know,” said McIntosh. “Veterans and disabled veterans have experience and capabilities that any company would find valuable. Z Systems is ensured for continued success largely because of their veteran workforce.”
Large Employer of the Year
First Data, a Dallas-based financial technology and merchant services company, was named DAV’s Large Employer of the Year.
According to the company, First Data hired 29 disabled veterans in 2015 and 99 women veterans. Since the establishment of First Data’s Military and Veterans Affairs team in 2014, veteran and spouse hires have risen from 2 percent to 15 percent.
“The [First Data] Military and Veteran Affairs team had dedicated recruiters focused on military-affiliated candidate recruiting, retention and education for owner associates, as well as resources to aid veteran entrepreneurs and business owners,” said Melissa Bird, First Data military project manager. “Military recruiters are specifically focused on veterans, Guard [and] Reserve members and military spouses.”
“First Data has a competitive edge in their business because they strive to include candidates who are able to handle adversity and contribute to the success of their team,” said McIntosh. “Veterans and disabled veterans alike come to the workforce with experience in management, leadership, discipline and a commitment to mission success.
“I’m grateful for what First Data has done for the men and women who served,” McIntosh added. “These employers know when you hire veterans, you hire some very skilled and sought-after talent.”