Longtime Marine wife Carole Turner was speaking to another military spouse last year when they came to a startling realization: not many veterans or military families know what Veteran Service Officers (VSOs) are or can do.
“The younger generations of service members aren’t using VSOs as much,” Turner said. “But what if we could use our collective impact to create advocacy and awareness around the veteran service officer program?”
Turner and her friend, Stephanie Muckey — an employee of Humana, the military-connected insurance company — were both in unique positions to do so. Turner is the vice president of strategic communications at PsychArmor, a California-based nonprofit that helps civilians more effectively engage with military members, veterans and their families. A large chunk of her job revolves around educating others on military-connected topics.
Turner pitched a campaign that focused on VSOs; people who are specially trained to help veterans with issues like VA claims, burial and survival benefits, military records and more.
The result was a to-be-released video curriculum called “15 Things Veteran Service Officers Want You to Know.” Turner and her colleagues hope to release it by the end of the year. Once finished, the video series will be available in PsychArmor’s extensive free online library for individuals, businesses and employers, universities and more.
“It’s all about improving health and wellness outcomes for military members,” Turner said. “The energy behind bringing all these other organizations together and partnering with them is very important to us, and also very energizing.”
PsychArmor dream team
Those other organizations include not only Humana — the major partner of the project — but stakeholders in the VSO world, including Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans and Wounded Warrior Project.
Marine veteran Carmen McGinnis, a DAV VSO in Colorado and part of the “15 Things” collaboration, met with PsychArmor and Humana officials alongside other VSOs in January for a brainstorming session.
“It was extremely exciting to feel the energy and passion in the room from so many various perspectives, all in an effort to ultimately better serve anyone in the military and veteran community,” she said. “I’m excited to see what they come up with from the feedback that was provided by VSOs.”
The video series is in the research and data collection phase. PsychArmor is surveying several hundred VSOs from various organizations on their experiences, then will use subject matter experts to craft a script. The finished product will be the sequel to PsychArmor’s “15 Things Veterans Want You to Know.”
“I think this will be a valuable resource because the intention is to provide information on a variety of topics relevant to everyone in the community, whether they are active-duty service members, veterans, spouses or family members of either population; caregivers, employers, government leaders who create legislation that impact those populations, etc.,” McGinnis said. “I hope this video educates everyone that VSOs exist and we can bring a lot of value to their life for a variety of reasons.”
Both McGinnis and Turner are looking forward to the chance to correct misperceptions about who VSOs are and what they do. Though Turner cannot promise anything, she anticipates one of the top points in the video to be about payment for VA claims.
“People often falsely believe that their claim will have more attention or move faster if they pay someone to prepare it, but that is absolutely not true,” she said. “VSOs are free, and it does not benefit you at all to pay someone to prepare your documents.”
McGinnis sees the evidence and consequences of those false beliefs regularly. This video series, she said, will be her chance to set the record straight.
“I think a big frustration for VSOs is the misinformation that exists online and amongst individual veteran circles that we then spend a lot of time correcting,” she said. “Making the information clear and in layman’s terms will be a key aspect of this video curriculum.”