HAMPTON—— The 30-second ad from the Veterans Affairs Department touches on health care, education and jobs, and it's airing in Hampton Roads and selected U.S. cities.
But forget the message for a moment. Many businesses hit the airwaves in search of customers, but the VA on TV?
Iraq and Afghanistan.
Besides the TV campaign, VA officials are embracing the Internet in a new way, as public affairs officers are being encouraged to post on Facebook and Twitter.
It's all about improving the following ratio: The U.S. has 23 million veterans, but only about 8 million use VA services.
DeAnne Seekins, Hampton VA medical director, recalled a TV ad campaign about 18 months ago where the VA sought job-seekers. That was a first. Now they are breaking ground with the first awareness campaign of its kind, aimed at prospective patients, students and homeowners.
"This is the first time in VA history that we have been able to reach out through advertising," she said.
The main actor in the ad is Robert Kugler, a former Marine and Iraq veteran who is now pursuing an acting career in Los Angeles. The fast-paced spot shows him moving through various backdrops — the desert, a health-care facility, a classroom and other settings as he talks about reasons to contact VA.
Kugler touches on health care, the Post-911 GI Bill and government assistance for veterans seeking jobs and a home.
The commercial ends by promoting a website: va.gov/MyVa.
"It's your VA," he says. "Take advantage of your benefits."
The ads began airing this week in the Norfolk TV market plus Raleigh, N.C.; Savannah, Ga.; Seattle, Wash., Watertown, N.Y. and El Paso, Texas — all selected for having high numbers of returning veterans.
The VA will spend about $1 million up to Thanksgiving across the six markets. It will expand through year's end, totaling $5 million.
Although less than half of the nation's veterans use VA services, the Hampton facility is not lacking for patients.
"We are growing by leaps and bounds," said Dr. Karin Soobert, chief of primary care.
Workload grew by 10 percent in fiscal year 2009, 7 percent in 2010. The influx of female veterans is growing by about 14 percent, said Soobert.
Officially, female members cannot serve in roles where they are likely to engage in direct ground combat, but the fluid battle lines in Iraq and Afghanistan have placed female troops in jeopardy.
In the end, the campaign is about positioning the VA as a provider of choice, said James Coty, a Hampton VA spokesman.
"When I separated from the military, I had no idea what services were available to me as a veteran," he said. "If this campaign had been available, I would have been much more educated on the services that were there."
To see the ad, go to hrmilitary.com and visit Hampton Roads Recon.
VA on the web
http://www.va.gov/MyVA: The first stop for information on health care and assistance with jobs, education and home loans.
http://www.ebenefits.va.gov: Information regarding claim status and benefit payments
http://www.myhealth.va.gov: After registering at a facility, veterans can access their appointments, pharmacy and other information.