The US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers a wide range of benefits for American veterans, but veterans are not always clear on what benefits they’re entitled to — a problem exacerbated by the time that may elapse between military separation and when veterans first seek to use VA benefits. During their launch year, our partners at VA’s Veterans Experience Office sought to better understand veterans’ lifelong journey with VA benefits and then to explore how to foster more positive and effective interactions by improving Veterans’ initial ‘onboarding’ experience to VA.
The project team spent 18 months on a cross-country journey to research and understand the needs of Veterans and their families. We also sought to understand the needs of VA employees who deliver those services every day.
The team curated a research sample of over 150 Veterans from around the country before conducting a round of in-depth ethnographic interviews with 39 participants. Beginning with qualitative research—interviews, stimuli activities, and environmental observations—the team generated a comprehensive perspective of the life and needs of Veterans across multiple geographies, life stages, and areas of service. Ethnographic field research on Veterans and their support networks provided the team with a detailed perspective of Veterans: who they are, what they need and hope for, and how they behave.
In addition to veteran-facing communication materials and guides, we also created a suite of design tools to drive strategic management for the newly launched Veterans Experience Office.
To help veterans answer the question “What can VA do for me?,” we explored new ways to orient both recently separated and long-time veterans to VA benefits and services. We designed and tested a welcome letter and other communication materials that give veterans a broad overview of when and how VA might be useful in their lives.
To help veterans answer the question “How can I get help for specific needs?,” we created tools to guide veterans in taking immediate steps to access particular services, such as obtaining primary health care or applying for disability compensation. We tested step-by-step checklists to access a benefit or service, as well as other key pieces of information about eligibility and related programs.
We also participated in creating a suite of design tools for use by the newly launched Veterans Experience Office. These tools are intended to be used to drive strategic planning and decision-making across the VA ecosystem, to foster empathy with employees, to build a shared language between veterans and VA, and ultimately help change the way VA offers services to better meets veterans’ needs.
The final report summarizes our 18-month journey using human centered design to develop better services and experiences for veterans.
The welcome materials and checklists that we designed are now available to millions of veterans in the form of the VA Welcome Kit, which is being distributed nationwide in hard copy and is also available for download from VA’s website. The VA’s Veterans Experience Office continues to center the experience of Veterans in the design and delivery of VA services.