Lately it seems like everyone has jumped on the social networking bandwagon, or at least have claimed to do so. One can find buttons for Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and others on the front pages of most Federal agencies, including VA. However, social networking sites are more than just a fad to join in order to boost an organization’s hipness. At VA, we’ve found the internet to be one of the most powerful tools in our mission to reach out to our nation’s Veterans across the country.
While many people equate social media with a younger generation of users, as it turns out, Vietnam and Vietnam-era Veterans represent VA’s fastest growing population of online users. Both VA’s website and our social media pages have allowed VA to reach out to Veterans who have traditionally been geographically isolated, as well as those who live far away from large cities or major military installations. The majority of our Veterans live in rural communities and small towns across this great nation -- to include places like Native American tribal lands and Pacific Islands like American Samoa and Guam. In the past, these Vets would have had to make the trek into a VA facility to get information, submit paperwork, or receive care. That is changing. They can now access our online resources to fill out applications, download information and even access care. VA now provides both telemedicine to monitor medical conditions and online mental health counseling via chat rooms. In the past year, we’ve added over 180 Veteran-centric videos to VA’s YouTube channel, which have now been viewed over 250,000 times.
This time last year I had just created the Office of New Media at VA in order to pursue the President and Secretary Shinseki’s mission to increase access to VA. Since fall 2009, we have made a concerted effort to reach and converse with today’s Veterans through the use of a number of new media tools, to include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and blogs. In doing so, we have had considerable success. When we started, VA’s primary Facebook page had 879 subscribers. Now we have over 71,000 -- more than any other cabinet-level agency. In fact, we now estimate that VA reaches more Veterans through social media each day than through the VA website. And just in time for Veterans Day, VA has launched its official blog, called VAntage Point. This new platform will allow Veterans to receive timely and useful information straight from the source. It’s something we’re very excited about. Anyone wanting to voice their concerns over Veterans issues can submit a guest post for publication -- and we’re hoping they will.
So as we all take a day to celebrate and honor our nation’s Veterans, I ask all Americans to help spread the word. Get on your Facebook pages and send out links to VA’s resources, sign on as a follower to VA’s or my Twitter feed, then check out VAntage Point. Let’s serve those who have served us and let them know of their benefits. The added bonus is you get to be hip while doing it.