Prototype #2: Veterans’ Academy

This blog post describes one of the prototypes our team built as part of a Harvard Kennedy School of Government course in which we applied human-centered design principles to government processes. Our team has had the honor of working with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on the process veterans endure to appeal disability claim ratings.

  • Veterans liked hearing from someone who sounded like them:

  • Name, sounds like a snoozer

  • A la carte

What we heard

One of the veterans we spoke with, Dave, compared applying for disability benefits to being dropped in the middle of a maze without a map. “You just have no idea what is around the next turn,” Dave said. The VA trains veterans during their transition trainings, but we heard the quality of the information veterans receive during these trainings is inconsistent, and disability benefits is only one of many topics covered. Another theme we heard during the interviews was disappointment about how impersonal interactions with the VA seem. Veterans were turned off by the fact that most of their communication with the VA was through an intermediary or via impersonal letters.

What we built

We wanted to create a flexible platform where veterans could learn about all aspects of the disability benefits appeals process, and we wanted to put a human face on the VA. Inspired by Khan Academy, an educational platform that uses bite-sized videos to explain complicated topics, we created Veterans Academy. The prototype allows veterans to see a flow diagram of the appeals process, and see short videos on the sections that pique their interest. Our teammate, Josh Welle, who also happens to be a veteran, was the star of the videos. Josh tried to walk veterans through the process in a way that was easy to understand and conveyed empathy.

What we learned

Veterans again reminded us of the importance of branding by picking on the name of the prototype. “Veterans Academy…doesn’t exactly sound thrilling, does it?” But they LOVED the fact that they could learn about the process from a veteran just like them. Mike said, “Hey, when that guy said he was a veteran JUST LIKE ME…my ears perked up. It wasn’t just another bureaucrat.” Veterans wanted the prototype to take a step further, and allow veterans to choose the type of veteran who would guide them through the process. So in the second version of our prototype, we added a gallery of potential veteran guides. Finally, veterans thought they might remember the key messages of each video better if text was included alongside the video.

Paris Martin, Jane Labanowski, Chetan Jhavervi, Rohan Pavuluri, and Josh Welle