Veterans Affairs 2019

The Question

How can the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) use communications (and notifications) to improve Veterans’ satisfaction with the disability claims process?

The Team

  • Raina Davis

  • Daniela Jozic

  • Menaka Narayanan

  • Isaac Yoder

The Story

“The lag, more than anything, creates a sense of frustration and hopelessness.” 

The quote above came from Brad, a Boston-based Veteran in his early 30s. At the beginning of the semester, our team of four from across Harvard University was asked to explorehow communications could be used to improve Veteran satisfaction with the VA’s disability claim process. Brad was the first Veteran that we spoke to as part of this engagement, and his comments about his own disability claim experience set the stage for things we would hear again and again.  

We spoke to dozens of Veterans from across Massachusetts, Virginia, and Montana as part of our user research process. We found that, just like Brad, one of the key pain points experienced by many Veterans was a general lack of communication from the VA during the claims process. We also discovered that Veterans felt like communications from the VA weren’t tailored to them and their needs. 

 
Our user research process included visits to Home Base (left) and meetings of the Disabled American Veterans organization (right)

Our user research process included visits to Home Base (left) and meetings of the Disabled American Veterans organization (right)

 

We came up with 20 ideas to solve these pain points, ranging from quick-wins to almost revolutionary changes. We ended up settling on two main ideas: a disability claim tracker mobile app which Veterans could use to check their status and receive real-time notifications; and a communications preference panel for VA.gov that would allow Veterans to choose how they wanted to receive information.

 
Developing and testing our prototypes

Developing and testing our prototypes

 

Having tested our prototypes for these two ideas with Veterans and staff across the VA, we’re confident that both have to potential to significantly improve Veterans’ satisfaction with a process and system that is, by its nature, long and complicated. We look forward to seeing how the VA, building on our insights and ideas, innovates communication with Veterans going forward!

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