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Veterans Canteen Service (VCS)

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Veterans Canteen Service (VCS)

In 1946, Veterans Canteen Service (VCS) was established by law to provide comfort and well-being to America’s Veterans. With our many retail stores, cafés and coffee shops across the country, we serve those who have served our country. Our Canteens are whole health spaces for Veterans to connect, relax, share and care for themselves in an environment that is their benefit. We are proud to Serve America’s Veterans and those who provide for their care.


Creation Station

Diversity Award

Washington D.C. VCS Canteen Chief Dwight Brown at the PatriotGarden in VA central officePatriotGarden

Veterans Canteen Service (VCS) is growing fresh produce inside VA’s central office, using a hydroponic system to operate an indoor garden known as PatriotGarden. The garden will grow a variety of herbs the Canteen will harvest and give away at events throughout the year. 

VCS unveiled the PatriotGarden on Thursday, May 9, at the PatriotCafé, Department of Veterans Affairs Central Office (VACO) in Washington, D.C.

“I am excited to produce food and seasoning at the local level,” said VACO Canteen Chief Dwight Brown, who will oversee the PatriotGarden. “This is a terrific opportunity to add more variety and do something special for our everyday customers.”

Herbs are easy to grow in a hydroponic system and will promote Whole Health lifestyles through nudging people to use herbs to flavor food instead of salt or fat. Planted herbs will include dill, parsley, thyme, sage, chives, and basil.

“This is an eco-friendly endeavor that practices sustainability and shows a unique way for VA be better stewards of our environment,” said VCS Chief Nutrition and Whole Health Officer Lu Ann Swehla. “At VCS, our purpose is to bring the VA community together in a space where everyone can connect, relax, and recharge, and the PatriotGarden enhances that space.”

The PatriotGarden comes from a product called a ZipGarden, which is an all-in-one hydroponic indoor gardening system. The compact system allows for year-round growth of a wide range of plants and produce.

As designed, the PatriotGarden combines a water reservoir, nutrient pump, growing tray, and LED lights to grow produce. The reservoir holds a nutrient-rich water, while the pump keeps a constant flow of nutrients to the plants’ roots, promoting optimal growth. The adjustable LED lights provide the perfect light spectrum for each stage of plant growth, ensuring healthy development from seedling to harvest.

The PatriotGarden also supports the 2022 White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health and the goal of ending hunger in America by 2030.

A VCS chef prepares entrees at the Creation Station concept in St. LouisCreation Station

Veterans Canteen Service (VCS) is expanding options in its Creation Station concept at select PatriotCafés around the country. Creation Station will now offer fresh, healthy, made-to-order sandwiches, salads, and pizzas daily, as well as weekly specials to increase variety.

The Creation Station concept gives customers the opportunity every day to customize their lunches in the Canteen. Each creation begins with a base, or canvas, like mixed greens for a salad, a tortilla for a wrap or dough for pizza. Each creation is then layered with various cheeses, meats, vegetables, sauces, and more – all chosen by the customer. The fresh ingredients offer nearly limitless options to Veterans, their families, and their VA caregivers.

“We are excited to now offer all of the delicious and nutritious features in Creation Station,” said Lu Ann Swehla, chief nutrition and Whole Health officer at VCS. “It’s fresh, it’s nutritious, and it allows customers the chance to make their favorites in a way that is important for their whole health.”

Creation Station launched in June 2023 with the initial concept of rotating the selection of pizza, salads and sandwiches every other month. While the concept’s made-to-order options were popular from the start, offering all the options simultaneously will give customers the opportunity to enjoy their favorites any time. Customers can also enjoy Creation Station meal deals, which include a side and drink at a lowered price.

“Our customers told us they liked the meal choices in Creation Station, but they wanted to be able to get a sandwich, salad, wrap, or pizza any day,” Swehla said. “We worked to make all options available for every customer visit.”

There will be the option of more variety with weekly specials. These will add limited-time flavors like Santa Fe chicken or Cuban sandwiches.

Creation Station was developed to increase variety, offer fresh ingredients that can be purchased locally, and reduce food waste. The ingredients are held cold then prepared to order. This makes Canteen practices more friendly to the environment, while also reducing costs.

Customers can also “eat and earn” by picking up a Creation Station loyalty card. By purchasing any nine Creation Station meals and receiving the corresponding stamps on their cards, customers can get a 10th sandwich, wrap, salad, bowl, or pizza for free.

“Creation Station is Whole Health-focused and environmentally friendly, but it’s also a great value for our Veteran customers,” Swehla said. “Above all, it’s fun. I hope everyone has a chance to pick their own toppings, mix things up, and enjoy the variety.”
Since 1946, Veterans Canteen Service has provided reasonably priced merchandise and services essential to the comfort and well-being of America’s Veterans enrolled in VA healthcare.

VCS Executive Director James LeahyDiversity Award

James Leahy, executive director of the St. Louis-based Veterans Canteen Service (VCS), was recently named one of three individuals to earn a Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary's Diversity and Inclusion Excellence Award. This annual award shows the cultivation of an inclusive work environment, an engaged organization that celebrates diversity and the empowerment of all contributors within VCS.

Since Leahy assumed the top leadership position with VCS on March 1, 2021, VCS has made a multitude of cultural changes. During his first year as VCS executive director, Leahy developed a succession planning committee and established a VCS diversity and inclusion advisory council. VCS also introduced a mentorship program, which prepares leaders to take on larger roles within the organization. VCS is amplifying minority and women representation amongst VCS management officials and overseeing major increases in employee survey response rates.

“To this year’s awardees, thank you for your devotion to Veterans, for your dedication to advocacy, and for your commitment to Veterans and to your fellow employees,” said Denis McDonough, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “When we value one another and the diverse talents and backgrounds of those we work with and those we serve, we demonstrate respect for one another. That’s a critical part of achieving excellence as we serve and care for Veterans.”

Leahy’s award nomination listed his leadership, distinguished performance in cultivating a diverse workforce and an inclusive workplace, and significant achievements as worthy of recognition.

“I am humbled to be recognized for this prestigious award,” said Leahy. “There is no more noble honor than serving our nation’s Veterans, and I am grateful I can lead this organization. The VCS associates see more Veterans daily than any other program office within VA and they do an amazing job delivering the VCS benefit.”

The award’s selection criteria are based on an individual’s demonstrated efforts in growing a diverse, high-performing workforce that reflects all segments of society and values all aspects of human diversity; cultivating an inclusive work environment and creating an engaged organization; and facilitating outstanding public service. 2023 marked the 10th year of the awards.

“People everywhere deserve to be treated fairly and to feel included,” Leahy said. “VCS is a place where we value and uplift each other.”

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