What is the biggest change you might encounter in your life? Moving homes? Changing jobs? Your children switching schools? Our nation’s service members often experience all of these events—and more—at the same time, and all while experiencing the jarring shift of leaving military service. They leave a life of extensive rules and routines to embark on their next steps as independent civilians—possibly without sufficient resources or support.
No two transition stories are alike, but ultimately, each transition is a period of change that is at best disorienting and, at worst, leads to a Veteran failing to meet their basic needs. After serving their country, Veterans want and deserve to feel like more than a number, or a box to be checked.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) wants to do more. Thirteen weeks ago, the Digital Service at VA asked our Harvard student team in a Kennedy School Technology and Innovation field class a research question: How can VA provide the right services and products to better assist new Veterans?
To answer a deceptively complicated question, we turned to Veterans themselves, along with great people at VA, the U.S. Digital Service, and in a wide range of Veterans’ service roles. 200,000 Veterans transition every year. Based on conversations with forty-one United States Veterans and nine VA staff, we synthesized our insights from our thirteen week project.
Our key insight? “I want to feel like a person,” seven simple words, articulated by Anne, an Air Force Videographer Veteran.
Our proposed solution? A personalized transition tool we’re calling Vetransition. By entering in a few key demographics along with their transition priorities, Veterans can better navigate the vast array of information and resources available to them.
To review and refine Vetransition, we put different versions of the tool in front of ten Veterans, to help us improve the design. We envision this tool starting simple, without requiring any password or login, and with the option to get the personalized recommendations displayed also emailed, for easy reference. “Nobody feels listened to or heard when they have to do some standardized form. The more personal it is the better,” explained Kevin, an Army Chemical Specialist, when reviewing the tool.
We also envision this tool growing increasingly helpful over time.
Next Steps: Moving Towards A More Veteran-Centered Transition
On May 1, 2018, our team presented our findings and Vetransition to federal officials from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, the U.S. Digital Service, and the White House Office of American Innovation in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. We summarized our work and outlined an implementation plan for different touchpoints in the journey of a transitioning service member.
Our work is only as strong as our partners. From Veterans to federal employees, we’d like to thank so many people who contributed their time and guidance to make this project possible. Just as we listened to Veterans who were generous with their stories, VA listened to our insights and proposal. The Digital Service at the VA and Office of Policy and Interagency Collaboration were essential to guiding our work from the beginning. We are so grateful for the opportunity to work with some our nation’s most dedicated individuals, and we’re especially excited to see how the work continues.
Chris Dylewski, Ife Famojuro, Irene Solaiman, Rebecca Schwartz, and Simon Jones