Choosing to leave behind any type of career comes with a lot of uncertainty. But for Veterans first learning to navigate an unknown civilian world, the many hoops they’re asked to jump through to from the very start can be overwhelming.
That’s why the first stop in this reintegration process is often a phone call with a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs representative. These passionate workers are tasked with going over the many specific benefits that the Veteran has accumulated during time spent in the armed forces — as well as what benefits are available for all the years ahead. Details matter here. The stakes are high.
Because these benefits are vast, varying, and often complicated, the representative on the other end of that call (you) has the power to make or break the “getting out” experience. It’s a tough business to be in if you can’t communicate well, but a rewarding one if you can. And with thousands of Vets leaving the military each year, it’s also a job with a high workload.
At SAVI, we talked with real Veterans and real VA representatives to identify mutual pain points and best practices for their initial work together. Here are five tips to make the transition not only less intimidating for your Veterans but also more efficient for you.
1. Update Your Credentials: Make sure you’re up to date on all training designed for Veterans Affairs employees in your specialty. As the single point of contact for many Veterans each day, you’ll be expected to know the answers to questions relating to both old and new VA policies. While most career tracks come with at least some mandatory training, we recommend asking your supervisor what else is available that will equip you with the skills and knowledge to make your day-to-day journey easier on the path to serving Veterans. Becoming familiar with many areas of the VA benefits and claims processes as well will only help you build rapport with — and reduce complaints from — clients as you guide them into this next chapter of their lives.
2. Organize Like It’s Your Job: Your productivity level is usually a reflection of your organizational skills. Some people got it, some people don’t, but everyone can learn. There are tons of podcasts, articles, and apps (e.g., “The Productivityist Podcast,” “Tips for Getting Your Work Life Organized,” and “30/30”) on this topic. We recommend spending a few minutes each morning making sure supplies, informational packets, and anything else you need to serve your clients are ready and available before you begin your tasks. Don’t be in the middle of a client call when you realize you can’t find that pamphlet of information to reference. If there’s anything you think you might need handy, have it visible and within reach.
3. Train Your Brain to Empathize: Veterans will be turning to you with disability questions, dependent benefit concerns, and an endless queue of other less-than-fun disputes on benefits they may or may not qualify for. It’s not always going to be a pleasant interaction. But if you train yourself to be empathetic and consider the Veteran caller’s situation as entirely unique, you’re more likely to create a positive experience that will earn you not only immediate appreciation from the Veteran, but also praise from your colleagues and supervisors down the line as they see your results. Keeping a robotic, you’re-just-a-number-on-my-list tone will serve nobody well in the long run!
4. Make Task Lists Your New Best Friend: Do you have a growing portfolio of clients looking at you for all their Veteran inquiries? If you’re not already creating daily and weekly to-do lists, you should start now. A recent study found that you’re 33 percent more likely to achieve a goal if it’s written down. Having a written list — whether on an old-school notepad next to your computer, an app on your smartphone, or a tool synced to your email — will help you remember and complete your tasks much more efficiently than if you just kept a mental running tab. You’re busy, you’re filtering through a lot of information, and you have other people (Veterans, colleagues, supervisors) counting on your timeliness. A to-do list can help you meet your daily goals in this fast-paced environment.
5. Know Your Motivators: How do you perform best? Do you work better in a closed office or open room, by taking notes or through active listening, in a team-based environment or on your own, and with or without deadlines? Sometimes being more productive at work starts with understanding how your mind operates. We recommend taking a personality test, such as The Myers Briggs Type Indicator® Assessment, and taking time to reflect on what parts of your day let you reach the ideal “flow” state. Once you’ve figured out you, try to change habits and your work environment where you can, and ask for help if you need it.
Looking for more ways to stand out in your job? Why not make your work easier for yourself? Check out SAVI’s certification program and online manuals or contact firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.