“It’s between your two ears,” my dad would lecture, implying that one’s values are most important in dealing with challenges and finding purpose in life.
My dad, a U.S. Air Force veteran, would offer this unsolicited advice to his offspring regularly, encouraging to us to respect authority, accept responsibility for our actions, deal with problems with courage and discipline, and most of all, have integrity in every aspect of our lives.
Growing up, I can’t say I was the perfect representation of this ideal. I regularly (and foolishly) challenged my mother and father’s vast knowledge and experience in comparison to my own, usually on petty things.
Years later, I realize that the values he imparted to me as a child were not only part of who he was and is, but are also reflective of his service to America in the greatest military the world has ever known—through the experience, training and values he gained in the U.S. Air Force.
Thankfully, he and my mom made sure these values rolled into the next generation in their family. From Baby Boomer to Millenial, and eventually, from Millenial to whatever they call the next generation.
And values are ultimately what define a person, a family, an organization and a country. They guide the important decisions we make, how we respond to challenges, and most significantly, drive results. Like whether a U.S. military Veteran can get in to see a VA doctor in a reasonable amount of time.
I am privileged to work on behalf of Americans like my dad at the Department of Veterans Affairs, which as we all know, is in the midst of a transformation and recommitment to its core values: Integrity, Commitment, Accountability, Respect and Excellence (the VA “I CARE” values).
VA’s Core Values
The fact that integrity is listed first in I CARE is no accident. Integrity is everything to a successful, value-adding service organization, and not coincidentally, a central element in the vision of the U.S. Air Force.
Like the values my dad and mom imparted to me, VA’s I CARE values should guide and inspire every VA employee, contractor and volunteer in the services we provide to Veterans. This means I CARE must fuel every conversation, every analysis, every decision and action we take on behalf of our customers.
Undoubtedly, these are challenging times to be working at the VA. But challenges are the necessary catalyst in any context for change and improvement. If everything appears smooth sailing and perfect, watch out.
I am excited to be part of VA’s transformation, restructuring, and shift to placing the Veteran at the center of everything we do. Where it’s our goal for Veterans to one day refer to our organization as “My VA”.
It’s a high calling, and an immense challenge in this huge organization. But with strong leadership, increased accountability and an unyielding commitment to our values, I know that VA will emerge a much stronger and effective organization, worthy of the Veterans we serve.
As my dad would say, it’s between our two ears.
Jonathan Ludwig is a program specialist in the Veterans Health Administration specializing in internal communications, education and policy. He joined VA in 2007 as a program analyst intern. A proud native Texan, Jonathan graduated from Baylor University in 2006 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and English, and graduated from American University, School of International Service, in 2013 with Master of Arts degree in Global Environmental Policy. Jonathan is a strong supporter of public service. He is interested in new frameworks for effective governance, public policy, and institutional integrity in an increasingly dynamic and integrated world. He is honored to serve his country at the VA on behalf of Veterans like his dad and grandfather who have served and sacrificed for this great country.