Camilo Sandoval, Executive in Charge, Office of Information and Technology, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
As Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)’s Secretary Wilkie stated during his recent State of VA address, customer service is the Department’s prime directive, and in Information Technology (IT), that priority takes on even more meaning. IT enables nearly every benefit, service, and health interaction Veterans have with VA—from the ability to schedule an appointment online, or initiate and check the status of a claim, to the medical equipment VA uses to diagnose and treat our Veterans. Our employees know that the work we’re doing in IT means the difference between a frustrating, bureaucratic Veteran experience, or a seamless, exceptional Veteran experience.
We’ve worked aggressively over the past several months to drive the IT modernization VA needs to deliver that exceptional customer service to our Veterans. We’ve focused on using resources more efficiently and finding the best value to the Veteran and to the taxpayer for VA’s IT spend. A large part of this modernization has included an aggressive focus on collaborating with our business partners throughout VA to streamline the tools that facilitate disability compensation, pension benefits, and appeals for our Veterans—ensuring they are processed timely, securely and cost-effectively.
Additionally, by decommissioning legacy systems, consolidating data centers, and evolving our strategic sourcing function, we’ve created room in our budget to invest in innovative technology solutions that are responsive to ever-evolving Veteran needs, versus maintaining aging equipment and software. So when the time came to identify alternatives for critical VA functions hosted by legacy systems, as well as ensure that data consolidation didn’t impact our data stores, we looked to the cloud.
After developing a strategy to understand the business requirements and the required enterprise architecture, we assessed our systems and created a multi-year plan to begin migrating VA applications to the cloud. This plan also outlined a decommissioning timeline for those legacy platforms that had previously supported these VA functions, allowing us to better project savings that could be reinvested to accelerate our innovation and the migration to the cloud.
The VA Enterprise Cloud (VAEC) is designed to streamline the workflows of project teams by representing a common, logical architecture based on open standards. In addition, application programming interfaces (APIs) and standard onboarding processes simplify access to shared services.
For example, the General Support Services (GSS) toolkit is a collection of cloud-based services that help project teams connect existing VA systems to the VAEC, or create new systems that run in the VAEC natively. This results in faster time-to-market for new Veteran-facing services and greater flexibility as the business needs and strategic priorities change.
Finally, as VA moves to a single, cloud-based instance of its Electronic Health Record (EHR), compared to the more than 130 instances of VA’s current EHR, this IT modernization also extends VA an opportunity to rapidly scale health IT innovations across the entire organization in a way not possible before.
The VAEC hosts approximately 25 applications, including:
Caseflow Appeals: accelerates the appeals review for benefit claims
API Management Platform: provides OIT and external developers with secure access to Veteran data and tools
FasterCare: allows Veterans to schedule, cancel, and reschedule VA appointments ubiquitously; anytime, anywhere, and from any device. In addition, VEText, a text messaging appointment-reminder system, reminds Veterans of upcoming appointments, and allows them to confirm or cancel appointments. Since the time of the VEText deployment at 138 VA facilities last March, no-show medical visits have been reduced by more than 100,000.
VA.gov: enables Veterans to discover, apply for, track, and manage the benefits they have earned. It provides a common platform for Veteran-facing services that combine multiple sites that are supported by individual VA business lines.
We’ve also launched a new cloud-based IT Service Management Tool, a comprehensive, single platform that modernizes the way VA employees access IT support in VA. And we’ve selected a new, streamlined, cloud-based financial system solution to replace VA’s 30-year-old Financial Management System (FMS), which will help improve transparency, accuracy, timeliness, and reliability of financial information, strengthening our fiscal accountability to American taxpayers and streamlining care and services for our Veterans.
Finally, as VA moves to a single, cloud-based instance of its Electronic Health Record (EHR), compared to the more than 130 instances of VA’s current EHR, this IT modernization also extends VA an opportunity to rapidly scale health IT innovations across the entire organization in a way not possible before. This move to the cloud will finally enable interoperability and the seamless exchange of information between the Department of Defense and VA.
Our Veterans will have one health record, from the time they enter active duty, through the rest of their life journey. Thanks to the steadfast dedication of VA’s IT workforce—a majority of whom are Veterans themselves—VA’s move to the cloud will help us realize our vision of a world-class IT organization that provides a seamless, unified Veteran experience.