How to distill the VA

INDUSTRY INSIGHT

How to distill the VA's strategic plan into action

The Department of Veterans Affairs faces a unique set of challenges. While other agencies focus on a single aspect of a citizen's life -- healthcare, education or housing, for example -- the VA must be everything to every veteran. 

That "everything" includes healthcare, hospitals, veterans' centers, benefits offices, loan centers, assistance with tuition, education -- from birth (of children) to death, and all events in between. The sheer number of experiences the agency shares with veterans means that changes can be difficult to make and slow to deliver results.

In 2015, the VA created the Veteran Experience Office to completely revamp the way veterans obtain services in the United States, with the goals of improving the quality and accelerating the delivery of services. Some major steps include consolidating 225 separate databases full of veteran information as well as creating a portal to more than 1,000 websites. The VEO ultimately wants to create simple touchpoints -- a single phone number and website --  that veterans can access when they need assistance.

The VA has made great progress and seems poised continue on its positive trajectory in the coming years. The latest report on the MyVA transformation process indicates that the agency is trending in the right direction: Trust in the agency is rising, homelessness has been cut in half since 2010, wait times for care are down and quality of VA centers is improving (82 percent of facilities show improved quality since 2015). The VEO recognizes that many of these positive results are due to collaborations with nearly 4,000 public and private agencies.

As other agencies look to partner with the VA, the VEO’s strategic plan should become a guide for any program launching within the agency.

Support the customer experience

With the strategic plan, the VA has completely reframed its outlook on serving veterans. In keeping with shifts in the private sector, the agency wants to support veterans from the "outside in."

“By revamping our functions to fit Veteran needs, rather than asking Veterans to navigate our complicated internal structure,” the plan states, “we are rededicating ourselves to the proposition General Omar Bradley expressed in 1947: “We are dealing with Veterans, not procedures; with their problems, not ours." 

To support that shift in outlook, the VEO has published numerous guidelines, tools and resources to support private enterprises in their partnership with the VA. While organizations should look for tools and resources specific to their industries, they should also refer to the VA's Strategic Partnerships' Toolkit, Needs Portfolio and Relational Database publications. These resources help outside agencies and organizations design solutions that dovetail with the revamped, outside-in practices already in place at the VA.

Support the employee experience

For the VA, the employee experience is just as important as the veteran experience. Better customer service for veterans comes from employees who feel engaged in their work. In its strategic plan, the VA has created a support services initiative that helps with internal operations related to human resources, IT, legal services, public and congressional affairs, finance, purchasing and logistical needs.

While contractors working on the employee experience may feel two or three steps removed from the veteran population, in reality everything is connected, and all steps that improve even the smallest part of the VA will ultimately help veterans.

Become a strategic partner

As part of its strategic plan, the VA's Strategic Needs Portfolio will revamp and re-envision opportunities for contractors interested in partnering with the agency. The agency is seeking partnerships at the local, regional and national levels, and it will streamline the process of establishing partnerships by moving it online. The VA also envisions internal online communications via web that will "empower employees to disseminate information, share best practices, and be proactive in engaging with community stakeholders."

In addition to building websites such as those needed to create partnerships, the VA is looking for partners to:

  • Provide support services to front-line managers and employees who act as the public face of the VA.
  • Improve hiring, contracting and supply-chain practices, as well as IT service support.
  • Train more than 30,000 employees in lean management techniques.
  • Implement a cross-department knowledge management system.
  • Assist with requirements-based budgeting, programming and resource-allocation processes.
  • Conduct strategic reviews of facility and network optimization.

Contractors that can provide services in more than one area of expertise will have an advantage, as the agency will balance a streamlined approach with a "veteran first" philosophy to produce the best possible outcome at every touchpoint.

The VA will continue to move forward with a veteran-first mindset defined by strategic planning and a commitment to employee engagement. A holistic focus on the veteran experience from the contractor community will help speed the changes that the VEO desires and our veterans deserve.

About the Author

Abby Herriman is the chief strategy officer at HighPoint Global.

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