SERVICE TO THE CITIZEN AWARD WINNER
SERVICE TO THE CITIZEN AWARD WINNERS
Millions of Americans interact with government services every day, and expect to do so through digital channels. Too often they are faced with outdated tools and systems that lead to a cumbersome and frustrating experience. DSVA is made up of top engineers, designers, product managers, bureaucracy busters, and procurement experts from all corners of the tech industry and government who join for term-limited tours of duty—leaving their jobs, and often their homes, they come to D.C. and work to solve that problem. We are always designing products with our users, not for them, and we exist outside of standard hierarchies, enabling us to go where the work is and quickly research and develop solutions to VA’s most urgent Veteran facing problems—and we’ve had quite the impact. After just 3 years, DSVA’s unique approach to government IT has helped launch eleven new products, secure VA cloud infrastructure, collaborate with VA’s Technology Acquisition Center to improve VA’s approach to agile contracting, and helped Veterans submit over 550,000 education and healthcare benefit applications online. In the past year alone, we’ve deployed 338 times and spent over 240 hours talking to Veterans, almost entirely 1:1, to more deeply understand their needs and build better products. The mission is ambitious, but critical: use industry best practices to make it easier for Veterans to get the benefits they deserve. Provide digital tools that empower them to discover, apply for, track, and manage their benefits online. The U.S. Digital Service team at the Department of Veterans Affairs (DSVA) is honored to serve those who have sacrificed so much to protect our country, and work to advance this mission every day.
The previous education benefits site was outdated, didn’t work on mobile devices, and had known security vulnerabilities.
Working directly with Veterans, we built a wizard to help them identify which education benefits form they need to complete. By answering up to four basic questions, Veterans are now directed to the correct form. The GI Bill Comparison tool helps Veterans learn about education programs and compare benefits by school. Veterans can also check the status of their Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits and access a statement of benefits to verify eligibility with their school.
Just over a year ago, we released a tool to enable Veterans to apply for healthcare eligibility on Vets.gov.
Previously, less than 10% of Veterans applying for healthcare used the online application for one simple reason: the form would not open for most users. The application was a fillable and outdated PDF, inaccessible to the vast majority of users. Together with the VA Health Eligibility Center, we introduced a new digital application for health care, enabling 292,634 Veterans to submit applications for health care online.
Once signed up for healthcare, DSVA created and launched online terms and conditions to grant access to health tools which allowed over 28,000 Veterans quicker access and eliminated over 7 hour commutes to local VA medical centers to turn in paper equivalent. A Veteran described this as “More intuitive [to have the terms and conditions and medical consent with health tools], didn’t have to access my records until I clicked on some health care stuff. More logical and natural to give consent to something like that while you’re trying to access them.” Veterans can securely message their healthcare team or refill a prescription from a smartphone; they can schedule appointments online for primary care, audiology, optometry, and outpatient mental health at over 100 participating medical centers across the country.
One of the newest tools on Vets.gov helps vulnerable Veteran populations understand how to upgrade their discharge status, making them eligible to receive benefits.
Tens of thousands of Veterans with less than honorable discharges have been categorized by the military as especially likely to have unjust discharges deserving of upgrades. These are Veterans who were discharged due to posttraumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, sexual orientation, or were victims of sexual assault. Fragmented, confusing information has impeded Veterans from receiving crucial information and— in many cases—necessary benefits. DSVA collaborated with stakeholders at the DOD to develop a tool that provides customized guidance to Veterans who desire to upgrade or change the conditions of their military discharge. By answering a few short questions, Veterans will receive information on the specific armed services board to contact, the form/s to fill out, special guidance applicable to their case, where to send their application and helpful tips for appealing their discharge. During user research, one Veteran said “I really like this section right here, where it’s talking about my answers and giving me the background of what’s going on, and why…I think it’s telling me why I should fill out the paperwork to change my discharge…Um…wow. Can you guys hurry up and bring this site up?!”
DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS