What it’s Like as a Writer in a VSFS VA Internship
I applied to the Virtual Student Federal Service (VSFS) internship program and in September, I received an offer. It was to join the Digital Media Engagement (DME) team as a writing intern for the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA). It was exciting as it seemed like a positive way to help Veterans. As a writer, you have plenty of opportunities to write for various projects and there is always something for you to do.
At first, this opportunity fit so well with my schedule. I worked full-time during the day and attended class, club activities, social events and studied during the evening. In the late hours of the evening or early hours of the morning, I could complete my research and write-ups for Veteran of the Day (VOD) cards. As this program is remote, it made a huge difference and allowed me to have an internship. It was an experience that I did not think I was going to be able to have during my undergraduate career. When I started, writers could source their interview material from the Veterans History Project (VHP) database. Then I would complete any independent reading or research to add to the story. I am not sure if it is universal for every International Studies major, but I have plenty of history and military non-fiction sources in my own study that I could also refer to while reviewing details of a Veterans story. I was fortunate enough to be in a class which the professor recently published a book covering World War I and I was able to use his book for more information for VOD stories.
When leadership placed a hold on VHP stories, I was not able to conduct interviews one-on-one at night. Fortunately, there were other projects I could work on. I started writing for the Veteran Resources newsletter. I could find programs that served the Veteran community on a broad scale and submit them to be featured. It worked out great, as this was more focused on research. I could locate for programs online and write about their services. What I found most helpful with these is that most of their information was online. I could use their own website or prior interviews from other outlets. then I complete a writeup without the need to contact someone during the day. If there were any questions needed, since it was an organization there was usually a business email to reach out to as well. When I did have time during the day, I did conduct interviews phone interviews for VODs.
A Veterans Story (AVS) is like VODs, but they are longer. I was able to work on a few of these that had content made available online. If any subject wrote a book or has a podcast, I would buy or stream their content to get a feel for the person. What is the story this person chose to share in their own way? It was a pleasure to get to go in depth into the life of retired general Donald Scott and figure out what has not been said about him already. Jason Redman has multiple books, so I would listen to his story while at the gym through Amazon Kindle and try to figure out how to tell his story. As with any of the write ups, what I write should be interesting. If every other article out there says the same thing, then why am I writing about them? What can I write that has not been done already? It is not easy. Sometimes with limited information, you can only go with what you have.
Luckily, you are part of a team. The editor and researcher assigned to your card can sometimes help. As a writer, it is a good idea to be adaptable and willing to accept constructive feedback. I’ve seen comments and conversations on other cards between teammates that were not the nicest when feedback was provided. Overall, we are working towards the same goal and if someone else looks at your work and sees a way to improve it, learn from their suggestions. I went nearly three months without any real feedback until the Department Head (DH) reached out to provide suggestions. He let me know, that the work after that had improved. I was embarrassed at first since no one said anything, but after I knew, I fixed what was needed going forward.
My favorite side project was added near the end of my time with the program and is Veteran Tracking. I’ve been told in every friend group there is a person who can find out anything about anyone online, that’s me. This project put these skills to the test, and it paid off. So far one of the Congressional Medal of Honor research subjects has received his award with the research we provided.
As a writer, you have the opportunity to be creative and adapt to the various projects available in the internship. If you are flexible and willing to continue learning what each project requires you can contribute to multiple teams. Be engaged, say “good morning” in the group chat. One really odd, but fun evening we had a state anthem sing off where Texas won with more interns chat singing ‘Deep in the Heart of Texas.’