VA testing methods to gain more value from DOD demographic data

The Veterans Affairs Department has begun testing how to define or characterize demographic data imported from the Defense Department that VA could store in a repository for use among the many services that require such data.

Under an information-sharing agreement, VA is trying to share data from DOD horizontally, instead of delineating it by service categories, to make data use more efficient for veterans' benefits. It is part of an effort to find more value in data, which should result in improved services to veterans, said Scott Cragg, VA's chief architect.

DOD shares data, such as names and addresses, about soldiers separating from active duty with VA to determine benefits eligibility, enrollment and health care. Currently, VA requests demographic data in 31 dedicated, single-use streams for different services, so the data is often duplicative.

'But if you can characterize the data in a single way and send it over as a big block of data, then it gives you the opportunity to use that data in additional ways,' Cragg said yesterday at an event co-sponsored by the American Council for Technology and the Industry Advisory Council in Washington. VA also could use the same data for the different services that request it.

VA and DOD have agreed to develop a joint schema to determine how to define that big chunk of data, rather than each little piece that is only usable for one function.

'We achieved the point where we are capable of testing our VA repository. What we are doing is characterizing what it is that we think we know. We're validating that piece,' Cragg said.

The next goal is to start testing specific data that DOD transmits to VA's repository. Once VA has verified that it recognizes the data coming over, then VA can start assessing how to use it in different ways.

'You can gain new knowledge because of those relationships that before you wouldn't have seen,' he added.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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