VA launches rudimentary Vets.gov on Veterans Day

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The launch day beta homepage of Vets.gov.

The Department of Veterans Affairs launched the beta version Wednesday of Vets.gov, consolidating the department’s thousands of websites and services into one central portal.

Developed by a U.S. Digital Service team on detail at VA, the site will be continuously updated with new tools and expanded functionality. Its launch marks the start of VA’s “MyVA” plan to be more customer focused and improve veterans’ experiences with the agency.

As part of this movement, VA Secretary Bob McDonald hired Tom Allin as the department’s first chief customer experience officer position. The customer experience officer would “drive VA culture and practices to understand and respond to the expectations of our Veteran customers,” McDonald said in an announcement.

In a blog post accompanying Vets.gov’s launch, McDonald said VA’s biggest priority is to built a site veterans deserve.

“Veterans have been speaking and we’ve been listening,” he wrote. “You’ve told us VA has too many websites containing too much confusing information. You’ve said [you] want a site that’s clear – one that’s written in plain language and is easy to use. That’s what you’ll find here.”

As it stands, the beta Vets.gov is a hub for basic information on disability and education benefits, “the two benefit categories you’ve told us mean the most to you,” McDonald said. Along with that information, there are two updated tools: a comparison tool for post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits and another for locating benefits facilities.

The VA’s digital service team will add new tools every week, according to spokesman Mark Farrell. In September, VA released a solicitation for agile support services in the continual development of Vets.gov.

By working in an agile manner and quickly putting a prototype in front of veterans, McDonald said users can have a voice in the direction the website takes — “you can tell us what’s working for you and what isn’t.”

“The ultimate goal for Vets.gov is to become the single, one-stop shop for information and self-service for Veterans and those that care for them,” Farrell said in an email to FedScoop.

A look at the Vets.gov source code reveals several of the areas of focus in its forthcoming updates, like dependent and caretaker benefits, jobs and employment, loss of a family member and homeless resources.

Like the past work of the USDS, the VA digital team is developing the website in the open and with transparency in mind. The team published a corresponding playbook on launch day with design principles and a variety of guides for its development strategy. From developers and engineers to non-technical veterans and the general public, visitors can explore things like VA’s governance structure, migration strategy, product methodology and more, all in the open. The site also has its own open-source GitHub page.

McDonald hopes that veterans will familiarize themselves with the current content and tools, and give feedback on how the portal could better address their needs.

“Our process building Vets.gov will be one of constant refinement and improvement,” he said. “Your feedback will guide and shape everything we do. That’s as it should be. This site isn’t about us – it’s about you.”

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Government IT News, Innovation, U.S. Digital Service, White House
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