VA interns help launch Operation Holiday Cheer

December 20, 2010|By RICHARD F. BELISLE |
  • Sgt. Chris Lashure and Charles Zeigler consult over a hand of poker Monday during a Christmas party for Veterans Administration Medical Center patients.
Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff Photographer

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — About 30 interns from the Veterans Administration Acquisition Academy in Frederick, Md., got a first-hand look Monday at what the biggest part of their jobs will be: caring for those "who shall have borne the battle."

The interns, if they complete the three-year training program, will be buying the goods and services the 150-plus VA medical centers across the country need to operate, from medical supplies and equipment to contracted services to construction projects, even down to laundry detergent, academy spokeswoman Laura Edwards said.

On Monday, the interns carried out Operation Holiday Cheer where they mixed and mingled with veterans in the Martinsburg center.

"They (interns) gave back and connected with veterans," Edwards said. "It gave them an opportunity to touch and feel our mission of caring for veterans. Everything we do as VA employees is for veterans."

Edwards said the school's curriculum is holistic in that it includes technical contracting skills, interpersonal communications, leadership and program management.

The school, established with the first class of 30 interns in 2008, is housed in an 80,000-square-foot facility in Frederick. It was created to train specialists to fill the VA's growing acquisition workforce openings being created by retirements in the 300,000-plus employee agency.

The interns who came to Martinsburg Monday make up the academy's third class. They graduate in 2013.

Interns spend 15 weeks moving within the VA system, from medical centers, to national cemeteries to construction projects to information technology and others, Edwards said.

"Sometimes when you work in an office it's hard to understand how you can contribute," said Stephanie Belella, program manager at the academy. "The work is more than just pushing paper."

Interns range in age from the early 20s to early 40s. About half are women, and nearly half are veterans. Belella said.

Intern Sean Cusack, 27, of York, Pa., a disabled Army veteran, learned about the program from his vocational rehabilitation counselor.

Cusack's goal is to work in the health services field, especially in departments that deal with prosthetics.

Amy Davis, 39, of Detroit also has her eye on buying for the VA's health services department. She was a paralegal for 10 years before she decided to change careers.

"I have an MBA, and this looked like a good transition," she said. Davis also looked forward to the security of federal government employment.

Vietnam War veteran Charles Zeigler was at a table surrounded by five interns. He was teaching them the art of poker.

Tamara Dean, 28, of Westminster, Md., sat across from Zeigler puzzling over the cards in her hand.

She said she'll go through all her job rotations before she decides which career direction she'll choose. She might explore construction.

Dean is married and her husband, Joshua, is in the academy's intern program at the academy.

"He's a year ahead of me," she said.

Asked if she thought the training program would be a burden on their marriage and 3-year-old daughter, Isabella, she said: "We're willing to do whatever it takes."

The next class of 30 interns will be accepted early next year, Belella said. About 450 people applied for the 30 slots in the last class, she said.

The VA looks for applicants with bachelor's and higher degrees, but also considers anyone with 24 college credits in business, accounting or related subjects.

Anyone interested in applying may e-mail Belella at

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