In this edition of Chats with the Chief, VHA Chief of Staff Jon Jensen sits down with Cheryl L. Mason, the first woman chair of the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. She talks about recent and coming improvements to the board and what brought her to work with Veterans.
About the board
Founded 88 years ago, the board provides fair settlement of Veterans’ appeals at no cost to the Veteran. The board focuses on holding hearings and deciding appeals. The processes, people and technologies put in place have allowed the board to decide over 100,000 appeals during each of the last three years.
This year, the board has held over 22,000 hearings, more than have ever been held in the history of the board.
Mason, appointed in late 2017, and her team of more than 100 judges, 900 attorneys and 200 administrative and operational staff are working hard to continue delivering timely and accurate decisions to Veterans.
In 2019 the board implemented the Appeals Modernization Act, which allows Veterans more choice, clarity, and control over their appeals. Recently, the White House also approved 20 new judges to join the board, increasing the total number by 20%. Mason is recruiting more judges this fall to ensure more Veterans get their requested hearings and receive their appeals decisions.
She also looks forward to continuing to innovate and implement new technologies. This includes artificial intelligence to serve Veterans better and more quickly.
Giving back to those who supported her
Mason’s passion for serving Veterans is rooted in her childhood. When she was just 4 years old, she lost her father, a Veteran, to suicide after a battle with adult-onset schizophrenia. A little more than a decade later, she lost her older brother to suicide.
Growing up in a small town where there was stigma surrounding the idea of mental health, Mason found that the Veteran community was the only group to embrace her family. Today, she uses her experience to give back to Veterans and serves as a passionate advocate for mental health.
She tells her story to illustrate how important it is to reach out and check in with people and talk about mental health and suicide.
Hiring military spouses
One of Mason’s priorities is hiring military spouses for the board, the VA and beyond. A military spouse herself, she understands all too well the challenges they face when looking for employment.
Even before the pandemic, Mason used her leadership role to make the board more telework friendly. This allowed military spouses to apply for jobs and work regardless of where their spouse serves.
Mason understands that military spouses bring talents and insights that are valuable to the board.
“We owe it to military members and military families to support our military spouses,” she said.
To view previous Chats with the Chief blogs, visit https://blogs.va.gov/VAntage/?s=chats+with+the+chief.