United States Department of Veterans Affairs
 Health Care
Three VA Television Phone-a-Thons Get Applications to 2000 Veterans
People answering telephones in television studio
Veteran and VAMC patient Mike Otis, a local broadcaster, hosted the VA Phone-a-thons in Northern New York which raised awareness of eligibility for thousands of area Veterans.

Day-Long Televised Phone Events in Northern New York Build on SLC Success

This is the story of how one VA Medical Center borrowed a great idea from another VA Medical Center and ended up with more than 2,000 new Veterans receiving applications for VA Health Care.

One day last December, Gordon Sclar, the Public Affairs Officer at the Syracuse, N.Y.VA Medical Center, read an article about a special event at the Salt Lake City, Utah VA Healthcare System.

He called Jill Atwood, Public Affairs Officer at Salt Lake City, who shared the information about a successful special event she had coordinated on Veterans Day 2009. Atwood had arranged a telethon-type event on the local CBS television station. The initiative drew more than 400 calls.

Sclar saw the possibilities in the Syracuse market and brought the idea to Syracuse VA Outreach Coordinator Bill Hoffman. They “brainstormed” ideas to develop a new and effective way to enroll large numbers of eligible Veterans who have yet to enroll for VA services.

Their discussions paid off.

Sclar suggested a unique commercial television campaign: an all-day Phone-A-Thon.

Local television stations provided a 90-second segment each half-hour from 6:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. The station sold the airtime to a commercial sponsor and Syracuse VA received the airtime at no charge.

Everyone was a winner. The station sold the commercial time. The sponsor emphasized their commitment to Veterans. The Syracuse VA was able to reach out to Veterans and their family members who might not otherwise be aware of the VA health care message.

VA informational segments were scheduled throughout the day, one each half-hour. Each segment dealt with a different VA program: OEF/OIF, Quality of Care, Behavioral Health, Adult Day Care, G.I. Bill, and Women’s health.

Area Veterans and their family members responded by calling a special VA phone number to request an application from the VA.

Hoffman arranged the business side of the event, scheduling extra staff to cover the phones, mailing the applications, and the important task of follow-up calls to Veterans who responded. Over 700 calls were received and more than 465 applications were sent to the Veterans who called that day. By mid-August, over 230 new Veteran appointments had been scheduled.

Sclar brought in a former broadcaster and owner of Media One Communications, Michael Otis, an enrolled Veteran patient at Syracuse VA, to host the event. “I was amazed at the number of Veterans who don’t know they are eligible for VA care,” Michael said. “I had to do this to help Veterans get the care they deserve. I’d like to get 50,000 new Vets enrolled and I’m willing to talk with any medical centers who want to know how we did this.”

The first Phone-A-Thon took place on Saturday, March 13, 2010. Beginning at 6:00 a.m., the phones continued to ring until its conclusion at 6:30 p.m.

On the heels of this success, a second Phone-A-Thon was telecast on July 22 covering the east side of Syracuse VA’s coverage area, focusing on the cities of Utica, Rome, and Herkimer. The results showed another outstanding success — over 800 calls were received, with 650 applications sent out to Veterans that night.

Canandaigua VA Public Affairs Officer Dan Ryan then took the Syracuse VA lead and produced a third Phone-A-Thon on July 20 for the Canandaigua/Rochester market. From 6:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., they drew an astounding 1,000 calls and sent out over 800 applications.

Reviewing the success of the events, Sclar noted the valuable lessons learned by all involved: the value of sharing ideas, the teamwork possible between VA Medical Centers and local media, and the achievements possible when VA staff work together to serve Veterans.