Helping Veterans access care and benefits onlineU.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
We joined the modernization effort at VA to implement a modern Drupal content management system and empower a Veteran-first approach to online healthcare.
health services audited and consolidated
research sessions with VA content authors
1 - 2
clicks on any device for Veterans to find what they need
“VA is finally pivoting from focusing on its organizational structure to helping me as a Veteran.”
Veteran using the new VA.gov
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is working to improve the confusing experience many Veterans have when navigating multiple VA sites built on a mix of legacy technologies.
Having launched a reinvigorated VA.gov in 2018 as an important step to a unified Veteran-first digital platform, the agency still needed to build out a common content management system (CMS), establish consistent descriptions for services, and organize the information in an accessible way for Veterans in need of health care.
The large-scale pilot effort focused on using one of the regional VA Medical Centers as a model for all future VA.gov content. This would empower the VA to:
- Provide better healthcare management and scheduling online
- Explain benefits clearly and provide intuitive paths to apply for them
- Help minority and women Veterans find services specific to their needs
- Provide online connection with care coordinators
- Establish a model for content publishing and governance VA-wide
We integrated the new CMS with the existing site architecture and helped create standards for content and design that make it easier for VA staff to do their jobs—while directly improving quality of life for millions of Veterans seeking health care and benefits.
- Usability testing
- Data & Content Migration
- Decoupled Methodology
- User Research
- Heuristic Evaluation
- Persona & Scenario Design
- Information Architecture
- Content Strategy
- Workflow & Interaction Design
- Prototype Development & Testing
- API Design & Deployment
Tools and technologies
- Decoupled Drupal 8
- U.S. Web Design System
Working alongside our partners Agile Six and Nava in collaboration with the U.S. Digital Service at VA and other organizations, our team was one of many moving parts in a complex project. We provided technical leadership and modeled transparent communication practices that helped the various teams work effectively together.
The technical strategy shifted to a “decoupled” approach partway through the project, requiring us to integrate the new CMS backend with the VA’s existing frontend system so that Veterans and caregivers could access content across multiple platforms. Agile practices helped us navigate this and other evolving priorities in a large ecosystem undergoing significant changes.
Smooth the technical transition
We managed the move to the new CMS without “pausing” the old site so the VA could re-use their existing front-end technology instead of starting from scratch. This meant we had to juggle content being served from two sources (GitHub and Drupal) during the transition, while training VA staff to use the new CMS effectively. We also set up a CI/CD pipeline for automated testing to ensure healthy functioning systems.
Find out what people need
To make sure health services and benefits are easy to find and understand, we tested navigation and content with real people, including unique groups like women, minority, and LGBTQ Veterans. We also interviewed VA staff responsible for maintaining the website, to understand their pain points and develop authoring and approval processes that make their jobs easier.
Empower a Veteran-first approach
The VA has been working to pave the way for a Veteran-focused digital experience, and this project was a landmark moment in propagating that approach throughout the organization. Human centered design and plain language are no longer the sole purview of digital experts — we developed systems that allow VA staff across the country to participate in the modernization of service delivery.
Improved customer experience
Veterans and caregivers can navigate the new VA medical center websites with ease. With 1 - 2 clicks, they can apply for benefits, schedule appointments, refill prescriptions, or learn more about VA services.
The VA handles a lot of personally identifiable information, so we used an “API-first” approach that encapsulates data access behind an API that requires authentication.
Service descriptions across VA websites were previously inconsistent and confusing. We helped analyze and restructure legacy content into user-friendly language, which was then applied across VA medical centers nationwide.
Informed product strategy
We worked with product designers responsible for the long-term digital modernization at VA, so they can better understand how to involve Drupal (their chosen CMS) in their product strategy.
Empowered content editors
Staff responsible for updating VA online content can do their jobs better with the new CMS. Smart governance processes powered by Drupal help content authors maintain consistency across VA-wide benefits information.
Increased usage of benefits
This work, as part of the large-scale modernization of VA.gov, has resulted in more Veterans interacting with VA services online. This means Veterans have more control and easier access to critical benefits and healthcare.