When you walk into the Department of Veterans’ Affairs in downtown Oklahoma City, there is a welcome board with a picture of Rochell Alexander wearing her Ambassador red coat.
“I’m known as Miss VA,” Alexander said proudly. “I’m an ambassador for the VA. I passionately believe in what we do and the services we provide. My current role is to make sure that every employee has a safe working environment, free from discrimination and harassment.” Born and raised in Oklahoma, and an Army veteran herself, Alexander has been at the VA for 17 years, working her way up from clerk to Equal Employment Opportunities Manager.
“Joining the military was one of the best decisions I have ever made,” she said. “I am still reaping the benefits from that decision.” Alexander always wanted to join the Army, but first she had children and graduated from high school, and then she went to college. Near her graduation from community college, recruiters approached her.
“I never thought I’d be able to qualify, but they talked me into taking the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery),” she remembered. Alexander scored so high on the test that the next morning she had recruiters on her doorstep. She passed the physical and they placed her with a recruiter in Active Duty.
She completed her basic training in Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
To do this as a mother, she said, was a special challenge. She had to leave her husband and four children for eight weeks to complete basic training. Every morning she would wake up and say, “I have to do this for my children.”
“Basic training makes you realize what you are made of. I made it through with the mindset that I can persevere. I have been given these challenges and I can overcome. And I would choose that route again.”
Now working for the VA, Alexander is a fierce advocate of the services that the VA provides. As she put it, “We are no longer your grandfather’s VA. This is a place of comprehensive health care. The VA provides primary health care, dental, vision, pharmacy, a women’s clinic and safe places for mothers to breastfeed their children, along with physical and occupational therapy, support and therapy groups — many solely for women. Next year, we will be able to provide mammography on-site. We are always expanding the care we provide. Women veterans are our fastest growing demographic, and we want to take good care of them here.”
Alexander is very aware that many women veterans have a difficult time accessing services at the VA. Because of MST (Military Sexual Trauma), there are women who have a difficult time even walking through the door. “That’s why we developed the Red Coat Ambassador Program,” she said. “It is available to everyone, but it is especially directed for women veterans. When we know someone is coming, we meet them at the doors in our red coats, take them around, showing them everything, always making sure they feel invited, safe and welcome.
“I want this to be the place that people choose to come to work, and that veterans choose to come for care. We serve America’s heroes. It is an honor.” Everything that Rochell Alexander does is designed to help VA employees and veterans access the services they need to empower themselves.