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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs


Four VA Employees Are Finalists for Top Government Award

May 6, 2011

Printable Version


In Contention for Prestigious Service to America Medal

WASHINGTON – Four Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employees are finalists for the prestigious Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal, which honors outstanding federal employees who are making high-impact contributions critical to the health, safety and well-being of Americans.

“The contributions made by these four VA employees to Veterans health care also have far-reaching impact on health care for all Americans," said VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. Robert Petzel. “VA is proud to have employees who have dedicated their lives to improving the lives of Veterans."

The four finalists are:

·         Alfonso Batres, Ph.D., chief officer, Readjustment Counseling Service;

·         Dr. Matthew Friedman, executive director, National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD);

·         Kim Nazi and the Blue Button Initiative Team; and

·         W. Todd Grams, acting assistant secretary for management and chief financial officer. 

The award, also known as the Sammies, is given by the Partnership for Public Service.

For nearly three decades, Alfonso Batres has worked with the community-based VA Readjustment Counseling Vet Centers, starting in the field offices and heading the national program since 1994. Under his leadership, VA’s Vet Centers (http://www.vetcenter.va.gov/index.asp) have expanded to meet the growing needs of hundreds of thousands of combat Veterans and their families, and improved both the quality and quantity of services.

Today, there are nearly 300 Vet Centers—expanded under Batres from about 200 six years ago—and 50 Mobile Vet Centers that he developed and launched during the past two years. Batres implemented family bereavement services, provided family therapists at each center, and set up the Combat Call Center, a national call-in service where combat Veterans or family members can call at any time to talk with a fellow combat Veteran regarding any readjustment issues related to their military service. 

A pioneer in the field of traumatic stress disorders, Dr. Matthew Friedman has studied, treated and advocated for people psychologically affected by war or other tragedies. He was among the first VA clinicians to recognize the depth of traumatic stress faced by returning Vietnam Veterans, and in 1973 established one of the earliest groups to provide mental health assistance to former soldiers.  Since then, Friedman helped found the Nation’s first community-based Vet Center and conducted unprecedented research which has led to significant clinical advancements throughout VA’s special PTSD clinical programs.

After years of distinguished work in the field, Friedman was named as the first executive director of the National Center for PTSD (http://www.ptsd.va.gov/) in 1989, carrying out his vision of creating a consortium devoted to research and education on the prevention, understanding and treatment of traumatic disorders. 

Kim Nazi and the Blue Button Initiative Team have been nominated for establishing a simple process that allows Veterans and beneficiaries at VA and the Department of Defense health systems to download their personal health information.

Blue Button is a tool on VA’s My HealtheVet website (http://www.myhealth.va.gov/) that gives Veterans a detailed view of the health information a Veteran enters in My HealtheVet. It also shows information available from the Veteran’s VA electronic health record.  With VA Blue Button, My HealtheVet information is available to view, save, print or download.  This allows Veterans to share their personal health information with their health care team, caregivers, other providers, or trusted sources.

W. Todd Grams has led significant reforms that integrate and streamline agency operations, reducing costs and delivering better service to America’s veterans. Grams established a new integrated management governance structure for the VA’s business functions, including financial, personnel, procurement and information technology. This involved the updating of 140 policies, creation of a streamlined hiring process for acquisition personnel, implementation of a self-service employee benefit portal, and training 2,375 employees in financial management. 

Grams and his leadership team also successfully led the effort for the first time to combine all of the department’s investment planning efforts involving construction, leasing, and non-recurring maintenance—a portfolio accounting for nearly $100 billion. For decades, planning and investment decisions for VA capital infrastructure took place in stovepipes, at times resulting in duplicative efforts and poor use of taxpayer dollars. 

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