How to distill the VA's strategic plan into action

By Abby Herriman

Published on GCN

The Department of Veterans Affairs faces a unique set of challenges. While other agencies focus on a single aspect of a citizen’s life — healthcare, education or housing, for example — the VA must be everything to every veteran.

That “everything” includes healthcare, hospitals, veterans’ centers, benefits offices, loan centers, assistance with tuition, education — from birth (of children) to death, and all events in between. The sheer number of experiences the agency shares with veterans means that changes can be difficult to make and slow to deliver results.

In 2015, the VA created the Veteran Experience Office to completely revamp the way veterans obtain services in the United States, with the goals of improving the quality and accelerating the delivery of services. Some major steps include consolidating 225 separate databases full of veteran information as well as creating a portal to more than 1,000 websites. The VEO ultimately wants to create simple touchpoints — a single phone number and website —  that veterans can access when they need assistance.

The VA has made great progress and seems poised continue on its positive trajectory in the coming years. The latest report on the MyVA transformation process indicates that the agency is trending in the right direction: Trust in the agency is rising, homelessness has been cut in half since 2010, wait times for care are down and quality of VA centers is improving (82 percent of facilities show improved quality since 2015). The VEO recognizes that many of these positive results are due to collaborations with nearly 4,000 public and private agencies.

As other agencies look to partner with the VA, the VEO’s strategic plan should become a guide for any program launching within the agency.

Support the customer experience

With the strategic plan, the VA has completely reframed its outlook on serving veterans. In keeping with shifts in the private sector, the agency wants to support veterans from the “outside in.”

“By revamping our functions to fit Veteran needs, rather than asking Veterans to navigate our complicated internal structure,” the plan states, “we are rededicating ourselves to the proposition General Omar Bradley expressed in 1947: “We are dealing with Veterans, not procedures; with their problems, not ours.”

To support that shift in outlook, the VEO has published numerous guidelines, tools and resources to support private enterprises in their partnership with the VA. While organizations should look for tools and resources specific to their industries, they should also refer to the VA’s Strategic Partnerships’ Toolkit, Needs Portfolio and Relational Database publications. These resources help outside agencies and organizations design solutions that dovetail with the revamped, outside-in practices already in place at the VA. Read more.