The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hosted a DigitalVA Expo today in Palo Alto, California, where VA leaders shared some of the technology experiences the agency has been working on to improve care for veterans, as well as the transformation that needs to happen at the VA to continue to build excellence in technical solutions.

VA Secretary Denis McDonough explained that this technology transformation comes at a critical time, as the PACT Act signed by President Biden last year is going to help the agency deliver care and benefits to millions of toxic exposure veterans and their survivors.

“It will bring generations of new vets into VA health care and increase benefits of many more vets. And if we do this right, we can make the PACT Act the largest expansion of VA care benefits and this storied agency’s history,” McDonough said.

“That historic growth will require us to speed up claims processing, to provide more timely and accessible care, and enhance the experience for vets we’re already serving,” he added. “And as we welcome those we’ve never served before and those who are giving VA a second chance to get it right for them, we simply have to perform better. This means we need to do IT right and we need to do it at scale.”

One way the VA is working to improve its IT is through a brand-new, which the agency just refreshed earlier this month. The agency wants the new homepage to make it easier for users to find what they’re looking for – with over 16 million unique visitors every month.

“We’re already seeing a lot of positive feedback from veterans on the new look and feel,” said Charles Worthington, chief technology officer (CTO) at the VA. “This is the entry point into all of the services that VA offers, and it makes it easy for people to get to them.”

Another modern tech experience the VA is providing to veterans is its VA: Health & Benefits mobile app. Worthington explained that this app “is quietly, I think, becoming one of the best success stories in the government in terms of digital experiences.”

So far, the app has 1.6 million downloads, and more importantly, it has a 4.8-star average from over 80,000 ratings in the Apple App Store.

The CTO also noted that the VA’s telehealth program has seen immense growth and success since the start of the pandemic. According to Worthington, the usage of VA’s telehealth program increased by 1,400 percent in the first few months of the pandemic.

“A quarter of veterans receive part of their health care using our telehealth capabilities,” Worthington said. “And this is a really important way to meet veterans where they are … Bridging that digital divide makes it really important to put specialty care and all sorts of health care right into their homes.”

VA Chief Information Officer (CIO) Kurt DelBene added that the VA’s success thus far in its tech experiences for veterans “starts from that mission, which is so critical.”

“We have a goal which is very simple: we want to be the best IT in the Federal government bar none. And we’re going to do that by actually changing the way we do things,” DelBene said.

“The care that we provide, the services we provide are fundamentally lifesaving for veterans. That’s what makes this a personal journey for us and very personal for each of us,” the CIO said. “Our vision is to deliver the experiences the veterans can’t imagine they could get from us, that are new, that are delightful, but that they deserve and are part of making them whole and having meaningful lives.”

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is MeriTalk's Assistant Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.