A slideshow presented to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs employees ahead of a Wednesday town hall meeting depicted veterans as the garbage can-dwelling Sesame Street character Oscar the Grouch – a characterization that some say perpetuates the negative stereotype that veterans are hostile and angry.
“What to Say to Oscar the Grouch – Dealing with Veterans During the Town Hall Claims Clinics,” is the title of the presentation, which includes 18 slides.
The Philadelphia Inquirer obtained the slideshow, which was presented to Philadelphia VA staffers on Friday, in preparation for a claims clinic to be held Wednesday.
The third slide of the presentation includes a picture of Oscar the Grouch poking out of his trash can domicile with a sign reading “Cranky” hanging from it.
The next slide shows the puppet in the trash can with a sign that reads “I [Heart] Trash.”
Another slide has a picture with the words “100% GROUCHY, DEAL WITH IT.”
One slide lists three bullet points instructing employees how to deal with angry customers, including “Don’t get in the swamp with an angry alligator,” “Recognize signs of oncoming outburst or frustration,” and “avoid fueling the outburst.”
Many of the slides are concerned with teaching employees how to interact in face-to-face settings with frustrated veterans. Besides providing tips on how to interact with them, the slides also offer suggestions to VA employees on how to maintain their work spaces and how to handle the stress associated with their job.
But the slideshow comes off as insensitive to veterans’ circumstances, especially at a time when the VA is embroiled in a national scandal over its failures to provide health care and benefits in a timely manner to sick vets. (RELATED: CNN: New Report On VA ‘Damning,’ ‘Scathing Rebuke’)
A VA employee and Army veteran who attended the training session where the slideshow was presented told The Inquirer that the depiction “stunned him” and that it harped on negative stereotypes of veterans.
“For a long time, there was a stereotype of Vietnam veterans, that they’re mentally unstable and violent, bitter, angry, resentful,” Christian DeJohn told The Inquirer. “I feel like this is perpetuating some of the worst stereotypes of veterans.”
“There is no time or place to make light of the current crisis that the VA is in,” Joe Davis, a spokesman for the VFW, told The Inquirer. “And especially to insult the VA’s primary customer.”
A spokeswoman for the Philadelphia VA apologized for the slideshow.
“The training provided was not intended to equate veterans with this character,” Marisa Prugsawan told The Inquirer. “It was intended to remind our employees to conduct themselves as courteously and professionally as possible when dealing with veterans and their concerns.”
She said that she was uncertain whether the slideshow was created by the regional office or at the national level. (RELATED: Obama’s Speech To The American Legion Was Painfully Awkward)