VA uses social media to help vets

Friday - 11/19/2010, 9:31am EST

Brandon Friedman, Director of New Media, Department of Veterans Affairs

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By Jamie Blanco
Digital News Writer
FederalNewsRadio.com

Veterans now have a new way to communicate, share their experiences and reach out to other vets thanks to social media and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The VA has launched its first official blog. Dubbed 'VAntage Point' it promises the close the gap between the agency and the ones they serve.

"The department hasn't been known over the last few decades as an exceptionally communicative department and it's been something that veterans and their families have been very sensitive to," said Brandon Friedman, the New Media director for the VA.

Friedman told Federal News Radio he's is working to reverse the negative stigma associated with the VA.

"We always talk in the department about how VA about many Veterans view the culture at VA and they view their relationship with VA in a somewhat adversarial light. So over the last year we've put a lot of effort into reaching out and developing a number of new tools and platforms and ways that we can better engage with all of our stakeholders."

The blog is the latest in a long line of tools that the VA has developed to that end.

"We're trying to make the department better and more responsive to the needs of veterans and their families and we think that by opening up conversation it's going to allow us to do that better."

'VAntage Point' features pieces written by VA staff and is open to comments and questions from the public. It launched on Veteran's Day and the initial response has reportedly been "overwhelming" - with more than 500 comments in just its first week.

"One of the things that I always talk about is...we have to be able to get the right information, to the the right veteran, at the right time," said Brandon Friedman the New Media director for the VA. "That's really the crux of the problem that we have to address. And by having a blog it allows us to do that much easier. And it's not just us pushing information, it's also how we can pull information and really obtain feedback."

Most notably, Friedman said, the blog accepts and posts opinion pieces or personal stories that you can send online. Over a dozen submissions came in during it's first week, half of which were posted onto the site.

"We allow anybody to submit guest pieces, whether they're an employee, somebody who processes disability claims, whether it's the secretary, whether it's a student going to school on the GI Bill, whether it's a member of veteran's service organization and we treat those like letters to the editor. So in a sense we're trying to build this community where people can interact and engage and really discuss issues that are a concern to veterans in a way that is going to make the department better."

Even opinion pieces that are critical of the agency can make their way onto the page, as long as they are cogently written, Friedman said.

Another feature of the blog, that Friedman is proud of, is that every post is accompanied by the name of the person who posted it.

He told Federal News Radio this small gesture lets vets know that there is a real human being on the other end, and "it allows for accountability. So, when people see that someone is accountable, that there's a name attached to it, it builds trust in the people who are reading."

"We're trying to make the department better and more responsive to the needs of veterans and their families," Friedman said. "and we think that by opening up conversation it's going to allow us to do that better."