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Representation matters: Puerto Rico offers glimpse into VA diversity

VA is dedicated to creating a workforce that capitalizes on diversity, embraces inclusion, and empowers employees to perform to their highest potential — and recently, staff members from facilities in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands sat down with us to share some of their diverse experiences at VA.

By embracing these tenets, they’ve helped us create a better, more caring environment for the Veterans we serve, no matter their backgrounds or where they choose to call home.

Diversity of location

Near rural facilities like those found in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Veterans embrace the different energy of their communities, enjoying a slower pace of life and access to nature.

No matter where they are, they can still rely on the presence of VA. Those who work in rural facilities like these acknowledge the importance of the different experiences, skills, perspectives, and insights a diverse team can offer.

“In Puerto Rico, there’s no other place to work that has the same culture here than we have at the VA,” explained Gerald Marin-Garcia, an attending physician in San Juan, Puerto Rico. “If you like to help people that try to help you, the VA is the place.”

Changing demographics

Women are the fastest-growing group of Veterans in the United States, with over 600,000 women using VA care this year. That makes our women’s health team more important now than ever before, no matter where they live.

“Our female Veteran population is growing, and the services for female Veterans are expanding,” explained Melinda Matos-Toro, a clinical pharmacy specialist at the Mayagüez VA Outpatient Clinic. “The services that are being provided for the female Veterans are exceptional and very comprehensive.”

We remain committed to hiring staff that understand the needs of female Veterans.

“I’ve been trained especially to handle the women who have been victims of trauma in the military. I’ve been trained by nurses at the University of Florida in Gainesville, and these nurses were skilled Veterans,” shared Dr. Lee Whitaker, the medical director for the St. Thomas VA Clinic in Saint Thomas Virgin Islands.

“All that training has helped me to be able to appreciate everybody’s condition and to be humble in my approach to caring for others.”

Representation matters

Every individual who enters a VA facility must feel safe, included, and valued. We treat everyone who comes through our doors with dignity, integrity, and respect, but seeing someone who looks like them goes a long way in bridging the gap, especially in facilities that are a little more off the beaten path.

Almost a quarter of all Veterans in the United States — 4.7 million — return from active military careers to reside in rural communities, and breaking down barriers to health care for rural Veterans is fundamental to the work we do here at VA.

“I have seen a lot and the guys are very attracted to the fact that there’s a Black American who’s here, but more so who has had experience in the military,” Whitaker explained. “I’m probably older than most of these guys, or at the same age, at least. And I understand their plight, what they’ve gone through.”

Diversity in the workforce

To support our workforce, we remain focused on the employee experience and taking the steps necessary to foster an environment where inclusivity and equity are woven into the fabric of our teams.

“One of the reasons why I’m working to protect LGBTQ+ is because I’m part of that community. I have a responsibility on my shoulders to work for my community to feel protected,” said Jorge Santiago, a Whole Health coach at the San Juan VA Medical Center.

“We have a Latino community, we have a Black community that work here, [and] we have a community of age 50-plus workers that need to feel their rights are being considered,” Santiago continued. “We work with management and administration that these rights continue to be provided to the employees.”

It is important to us to show our teammates that we are invested in long-lasting and sustainable change. We care about you, we respect your talents, we desire your skills and commitment, and we want you to bring your whole self to work each day as you care for our Veterans.

Work at VA

Working alongside coworkers from different backgrounds, and in locations like our rural facilities, can provide you with a wealth of benefits — as both a professional and an individual. Join our team.

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