By Debbie Gregory.
The Veterans Affairs (VA) Chief Veterans Experience Officer, Tom Allin, said a portal – called Vets.gov- will be launched to incorporate the VA’s more than 1,000 websites into a centralized hub, streamlining the users’ access to the department’s various services. The launch is scheduled on Veterans Day.
The new web portal will address one of veterans’ most common gripes.
“I’ve never met a veteran who knew what their benefits were and I’ve talking with some really smart veterans,” Allin said. “A young man who works with me in Veterans Experience—Rhodes scholar, Ph.D. from Harvard, West Point number one in his class—has no idea what his benefits are.”
Going online probably would not help. It would seem that Veterans.gov would be the logical place to start. But that site features the Labor Department’s job-training programs for vets. Currently, veterans looking to apply for VA benefits must go to eBenefits.gov. Once they are enrolled and want to access their health care information and appointments, they must use a different website, My HealtheVet.
“The worst case was a website that required 17 clicks to reach a PDF file that you have to print, fill out and mail,” Allin said.
Vets.gov will serve as a “harbor” that will take in information from the VA’s other websites. Eventually, the portal will serve as an all-inclusive resource for users to perform services such as adding dependents, checking on claims, changing addresses, and signing up for education benefits. It’s anticipated that it will take one year for the site to be fully operational.
Vets.gov is part of a broader plan to simplify the department’s digital services. The other efforts include a complete client database and a national call center.
“We want a unified experience in terms of Web, phone, chat, email—where a veteran can get what they want to get done the first time,” he said.
Allen said the VA’s 225+ health system databases “don’t talk to each other,” adding, “They have different data rules, and so we can’t tell you who is actually using VA today among our veterans.”
An integrated database will change that and form the backbone of future customer-service initiatives, including Vets.gov and the national call center, he said. It will include veterans’ contact information, military records, demographic data, and their past use of VA services.