Shawn Turner is sworn in as Senior Advisor for Strategic Engagement to the U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs
A professor of Strategic Communication at MSU, Shawn Turner has been named to the position of Senior Advisor for Strategic Engagement, where he will serve in an advisory role to the U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
Sworn in on March 1, 2021, Turner will serve as an advisor to The Honorable Denis Richard McDonough, who previously worked as the White House Chief of Staff for President Barack Obama. McDonough was confirmed as the 11th Secretary of Veterans Affairs by the U.S. Senate on Feb. 8, 2021.
“I am really excited to have this opportunity,” said Turner. “After serving 21 years in the Marine Corps, I went into government, because I love doing work that influences and impacts people’s lives in a positive way.”
Throughout his career, Turner has served the American people in many capacities, with his experience ranging from military and civilian service to education. Prior to leaving federal service in 2015, he worked as a senior executive in the U.S. government. His positions included Deputy White House Press Secretary for National Security, Director of Communication for National Intelligence at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), and Deputy Press Secretary for Foreign Affairs for the National Security Council (NSC). At ODNI, Turner was responsible for coordinating all internal and external communication on behalf of the 17 agencies and components that make up the U.S. intelligence community. At the White House and the NSC, he was a principal spokesperson for U.S. foreign policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan and helped develop the U.S. government’s approach to communicating intelligence reform in 2014.
A veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, Turner served for 21 years after he enlisted in 1990. He received a B.A. degree in communication studies from Texas State University and an M.A. degree in communication from George Mason University. He now teaches as a professor of practice in MSU’s Strategic Communication M.A. program and is the program coordinator for a new degree in communication leadership and Strategy being offered in the communication department.
“We owe our Veterans a debt of gratitude. I don’t say that because I am a veteran, but because I appreciate the service of those who have sacrificed much more than I ever have,” said Turner. “It feels good to know that in this role, I will be in a position to support our veterans and their families across the country.”
Turner said he wants to ensure that the American people know about all the important and innovative work the department is doing on behalf of Veterans. He will focus on making sure the secretary’s strategic vision for the VA becomes a reality. That includes ensuring that every engagement with external partners, support organizations, Capitol Hill and the public is well-coordinated and consistent. He aims to offer candid and honest advice to the secretary on strategic engagements and how they can benefit Veterans while also helping to improve programs in every component of the department.
“The Department of Veterans Affairs has done exceptional work recognizing the challenges that veterans face, including those challenges that are unique to the veteran community. What we’re really doing is a continuation of that work with a focus on identifying and addressing gaps,” said Turner.
Some the most pressing issues facing the department, in Turner’s view, include improving suicide prevention and mental health services, reducing homelessness, and ensuring access to effective healthcare.
“There certainly is work to be done with regard to suicide prevention in the veteran community. When we look at the numbers, we are improving, but the numbers are still too high. We’ve got to make sure that we’re supporting our veterans, not only as it relates to suicide prevention, but as it relates to mental health overall. We also have to continue to address homelessness among the veteran community, which is oftentimes related to mental health issues,” said Turner. “When we look at the impact of the pandemic on the economy, we anticipate that we might see more challenges with homelessness. So, we’ve got to be out in front of that, making sure we are not only anticipating it, but that we are investing in prevention.”
He advocated for changes that don’t require veterans to seek out services, but instead allow department workers to go out and find veterans who are in need.
“Our VA healthcare system necessarily needs to be one of the best in the world, and it can be,” said Turner. “We’ve got veterans in every corner of this country, and they need access to effective healthcare. And in our view, that means access that allows for their individual military experience to be part of their treatment.
Through his work at MSU, Turner has also been able to bring his expertise to the classroom, where he teaches strategic communication.
“Whether it was in the Marine Corps, the intelligence community, at the Pentagon, or at the White House, my job has always been to help the American people understand how our national security and foreign policy decisions impact our daily lives,” said Turner.
He says the fundamentals are the same in the classroom pointing out that he leverages the strengths of social science research and strategic communication best practices to help his students understand how people process information and why they choose to change their attitudes and beliefs.
“In a government context when you’re talking about intelligence, national security, and major policy decisions, you’re dealing with very different issues, but the fundamentals are the same, said Turner. “They can be applied to other contexts, whether you’re working for a pharmaceutical company or a car manufacturer or a local non-profit.”
Among his accomplishments at MSU, Turner led a project to run a pilot rollout of a COVID-19 exposure notification app for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). The MI COVID Alert app provides users with notifications of potential exposure to COVID-19, improving early detection efforts for the virus. The pilot was so successful that the timeline for a statewide rollout of the app was accelerated by MDHHS. Serving as an essential link to communication about the global pandemic, Turner also hosted a series on WKAR Public Television called “COVID-19: Answers and Insight” to address the impact of the global pandemic. In the series, he convened a roundtable with experts to examine the health crisis and provide the public with needed information.
“Shawn Turner has demonstrated exemplary commitment to service and used his talent and leadership to serve our nation and our community,” said MSU College of Communication Arts and Sciences Dean Prabu David. “We are proud of his appointment and excited that he can bring his experience from our nation’s capital to the students on our campus.”
Turner has published articles in USA Today, Newsweek, Spectra, and as a National Security Analyst for CNN. He has also authored book chapters on risk communication for national defense and information-processing and cognitive theories. He is a member of the Executive Board of Advisors for the Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law (CERL) at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and a former Distinguished Terker Fellow in George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs. He previously served as the Director of Communication at the Center for a New American Security and is the former Chair of the Information Operations Department at the Daniel Morgan Graduate School of National Security.
In recent years, Turner was named one of Washington D.C.’s top decision makers by the National Journal (2013), honored with the Intelligence Community Leadership Award (2015), and in 2016, he was awarded the Meritorious Presidential Rank Award for outstanding career accomplishments and exemplary service to the nation.
During his term as a senior advisor, Turner will continue to be a faculty member in MSU’s Prestigious Leave Program. He plans to return to his role in teaching at MSU after serving with the VA.