robots typing, answering calls (Phonlamai Photo/

Can AI improve user experience at the VA?

The Department of Veterans Affairs wants to use artificial intelligence to improve the experience of veterans who contact the agency with questions.

With the increasing number, depth and breadth of questions from veterans and caregivers coming in via the White House VA Hotline, VA National Call Center Portals and the eBenefits portal, the VA is finding it  difficult to give veterans immediate assistance because its agents are busy assisting other customers. 

The department believes AI can help minimize delays by speeding information retrieval and improving the quality and accuracy of information provided.  AI-based chatbots or voice interfaces can be trained to answer common questions and help VA agents quickly locate information relevant to a customer’s specific concern.  The technology could also be used to increase the accuracy of data collected by agents and ensure files are routed to the proper facility, which would prevent delays downstream.  By helping veterans and caregivers properly fill out claims documentation, AI can improve the accuracy and completeness of the information, speeding the claims decision process.

In a July 2 request for information, the VA said it is looking for an AI-based solution to give veterans, caregivers and survivors better access to health care and benefits information.  The VA wants the software-as-a-service solution to be developed with agile methods in which design, configuration, testing and deployment builds are conducted on a continuous basis throughout the life of the contract.  

The VA wants the following capabilities available across multiple formats including computer, tablet, voice and chat:

  • Natural language processing that provides “human-like” communications that take advantage of context, memory and evaluating the emotional state of the user.
  • Automated learning that allows the AI to learn from a session that was transferred to a subject matter expert.
  • Application programming interfaces for bidirectional data integration across various VA systems and databases.
  • Expertise that spans multiple areas such as disability, transition assistance, education and training, home loans and other services offered by VA.

Once the AI system is trained and put into production, the VA said, it can learn over time to expand and improve its own capabilities.

VA has already deployed some AI-based assistants.  A voice-activated virtual assistant developed by Epic, the electronic health records, and  Nuance, a firm specializing in conversational AI,  that makes it easier for veterans to schedule appointments, which are then integrated with their health records and the VA’s workflow.

Read the full RFI here.

About the Author

Susan Miller is executive editor at GCN.

Over a career spent in tech media, Miller has worked in editorial, print production and online, starting on the copy desk at IDG’s ComputerWorld, moving to print production for Federal Computer Week and later helping launch websites and email newsletter delivery for FCW. After a turn at Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, where she worked to promote technology-based economic development, she rejoined what was to become 1105 Media in 2004, eventually managing content and production for all the company's government-focused websites. Miller shifted back to editorial in 2012, when she began working with GCN.

Miller has a BA and MA from West Chester University and did Ph.D. work in English at the University of Delaware.

Connect with Susan at [email protected] or @sjaymiller.


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