Veteran Affairs 2017
How can the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs improve the visitor experience of discovering, locating, and visiting graves in their 135 cemeteries?
- Keith Caton
- Athena Kan
- Emily Middleton
- Devyn Paros
- Yuko Tanaka
Meet Patrick*. Patrick served in the US Marine Corps for seven years. He now teaches naval science at a college and still actively engages with the military community. Patrick’s deployments included Afghanistan, where he lost several close friends and teammates and experienced significant psychological trauma.
Patrick has paid his respects in three VA cemeteries. His first visit was especially difficult. He remarked, “There weren’t clear markers...I just didn’t understand the layout.” At two of the three cemeteries Patrick visited, his friend was not in the system or the terminal malfunctioned. "For me," he said, "navigating through that was a nightmare."
We learned that there were four main problems when trying to navigate cemeteries:
- There is a lack of awareness and understanding about the VA's National Cemetery Administration and its services.
- Existing gravesite locator resources are insufficient.
- Visitors with maps may still face challenges.
- Many visitors seek to better memorialize veterans digitally.
We prototyped three interventions. The first was a mobile-friendly website that has directions for specific graves and information on the cemetery’s opening hours, flower policy, parking availability, and other amenities. Our second prototype was higher quality and more readable maps at the cemetery. Our third prototype was releasing open data so that the VA could create “rich snippets” or enhanced search results when someone searches on Google for a VA cemetery or the name of someone buried there.
In the short term, we believe the VA should focus on developing a new mobile-friendly site, with the core features visitors told us they most need: an improved grave locator tool, and basic cemetery visitor information. Improving map print-outs from existing on-site kiosks should also be done in the first phase. In the medium term (6-18 months) and longer term (18 months+), the VA should add more functionality to the mobile-friendly visitor site. These solutions promise to help the VA in its mission to honor and memorialize veterans, and importantly, to improve the wayfinding experience of visitors to VA cemeteries.