Redesigning beyond technology to better serve Veterans

Gina Kim and Chris Given of the United States Digital Service

Veterans have been tasked with protecting people, but they don’t always see that protection themselves. In theory, the process should be simple: Veterans apply for benefits, and the Department of Veterans affairs (VA) makes a decision. In reality, it’s far from simple: The application process is complicated, and the VA must follow an ever-changing set of laws, regulation, and judicial precedent to make a decision.

When Veterans aren’t satisfied with the VA’s decision about their benefits they have the option to appeal. Many do, but the process can feel like disappearing into a black hole: 150,000 new appeals are filed every year, and approvals can take at least five years. There are currently more 400,000 Veterans with an active appeal open in the system, thousands of whom have been waiting for a decade or longer.

“We’re not just reengineering the technology — we’re reengineering a process, from end to end.”

The USDS team at the VA was given an opportunity to dramatically improve the process with the passage of legislation intended to modernize the appeals process. But instead of simply digitizing the existing processes, they worked closely with government employees at the VA who interact with the system every single day to examine each step and rethink the process as a whole. By bringing together the technology and the policy, and allowing both to be led by user needs, they are redesigning the system in a way that is modern, streamlined, and user-friendly for the VA—and, most importantly, the Veterans they serve.

To hear more from the USDS team on their work with the VA, watch the video below.