Veteran Engagement with VA Services

As part of SVA Products of Design’s partnership with Veterans Affairs (and held through the Design Research and Integration class taught by IDEO’s Lawrence Abrahamson) , designers Sowmya Iyer, Manako Tamura, Jingting He, Andrew Schlesinger, Sebastian Harmsen, and Louis Elwood Leach used design to help engage new vets—encouraging them to take advantage of the services available to them.

Building on the findings of over 20 first-person interviews with VA staff and discharged veterans, the group surfaced three principal insights: The first is that there is an opportunity to facilitate better communication between veterans—veteran-to-veteran. The team learned that information around the transition to civilian life, and around the available veteran services “is perceived better when it comes straight from a veteran,” the team argued. “Veteran-to-veteran creates a much stronger bond, and the ‘young veteran’ is more likely to pay attention and communicate interest when the information comes directly from the source.”

The second insight centered around the perception of the quality of services at the VA. “A lot of young veterans have a bad perception of the VA ‘due to bad media,’” the group reported, “when in actuality, we felt that the VA offers some excellent services.”

The third insight was around the value of helping veterans become more aware of their opportunities and values. “The recently-discharged veteran may have no idea of the potential that they have,” the designers argued. “They have been put through so much in the military, and we felt that if they had some instructive (and constructive) guidance, they could achieve so much more.”

Finally, the group learned that it would be incredibly valuable to create design interventions that facilitated connections within the veteran community. “We met veterans who have a sense of a larger mission, and really do want to help the veteran community. We believe that design could play a key role here.”

Transitions is a representation of the emotional journey of a veteran—through the various phases of military life, transitioning, and then stepping into civilian life. “Through our research, we came to understand that there are fundamental rhythms, expectations, and feelings that become completely disconnected once the vet enters civilian life. For instance, their life and routine has a structure and discipline during military life. But once they step into civilian shoes, their routine can become ‘mundane’ and, as a consequence, vets can find it difficult to cope.”

“Conversely,” the designers found, “there are a couple of key feelings that get carried over—remaining consistent through the transition to civilian life: a sense of community, and a ‘soldier identity’."

The designers proposed a user journey that was simple and logical, and that ladders up in level of engagement:

1. Conduct outreach out to interest new female vets in getting involved in the program
2. Create a sign up flow over a digital platform
3. Connect sympathetic, like-minded individuals based on their profiles
4. Facilitate a one-to-one meet-up, and equip the meetings with pertinent and supportive printed information

“We know that the VA is not permitted to directly advertise to the public. So our idea was to leverage the supporting brands to reach our audience, raise awareness, and promote participation.”
By asking experienced veterans to become mentors, the program essentially invites them to also become ambassadors for the VA.