Our approach to innovation is driven by listening, understanding and responding to the experiences and stories of the Veterans we serve.

We were huddled on squeaky chairs in the social room of a transitional housing facility in Los Angeles. It was early fall of 2014, when Chris gently picked up his trumpet, raised it to his lips and began playing. A wry smile darted across his face in between breaths. We had been with Chris for over an hour as he recounted his journey from active duty to becoming a young, homeless Veteran. We saw Chris deeply reflect on his experience, shaped by interactions, processes and relationships. Playing his trumpet, which he had carried with him from the streets to the transitional housing facility, brought him solace and joy.

Our conversation with Chris was the second conversation of hundreds that we have had since that day in Los Angeles. We have waited in hospitals in Portland, sat in living rooms in Omaha and congregated in coffee shops in New York. We’ve heard courageous stories, and challenging experiences from Veterans, about joyful reunions from families, early mornings and late nights from VA providers and employees, and the compassionate care of caregivers. We recognize that in order to create a more veteran-centered VA, and to encourage innovation that is meaningful and impactful for the Veterans we serve, we must first understand the people who rely and depend on us.

Beginning with our first exploration into the world of human-centered design (Toward a Veteran-Centered VA) we have worked to examine, understand and share the experience of our Veterans and how they engage with VA. We’re working to amplify the Voices of Veterans by creating personas that encourage better care and understanding across the VA. We are diving deep into understanding and untangling the VA appeals process. And we are working hard to identify and break away barriers veteransImage of a desk full of post-it notes can face when trying to access mental health services.

As we’ve talked to Veterans and VA employees, we’ve built a network of innovators to provide a way for VA employees to test new ideas and team with partners to improve the way we serve veterans. By embedding living laboratories in VA Medical Centers, VA employees can tangibly support the MyVA transformation; they are sparking, seeding and spreading ideas that both transform and improve services for Veterans. Innovation at VA takes many forms — some are feats of technical achievement, such as the Predictive Reach project, while others represent a new approach to providing care, such as the Creative Expressions and Wellness Center — but all are united by the shared goal of providing better care, and an improved experience for our Veterans and their families and caregivers.

Impactful and transformational innovation takes a team. We are now over two years into the MyVA transformation, a re-framing of how VA provides services and care for Veterans, and deeper more empathetic understanding of the Veterans and people that we serve. Innovation is not new to VA. Our history is full of pioneers working to improve the care of our Veterans, such as the first successful human liver transplant in 1963, or the VA practitioners who first diagnosed CTE in Veterans.

Now, as we continue to evolve and respond to the needs of our Veterans, we must grow the network of innovators and innovation, beyond our formidable team of clinicians, designers, scientists and storytellers at VA’s Center for Innovation. Innovation is practiced across the VA and Veteran community: by epidemiologists who use predictive analytics for upstream suicide prevention and by Veterans who are working with industry leaders to bring brain health training to market. As the innovation muscle at VA continues to grow, how we share the stories of innovation at VA also continues to develop.

We are excited to introduce new voices and teams that are working to bring innovation to VA to create a better Veteran experience, and improve the care of our Veterans and their families. As innovation continues to spread and become interwoven into how VA serves our Veterans, we want to represent the diversity of the innovation and innovators. We will continue to share our stories about how we are approaching challenges at VA through the adoption of new innovative practices and products, and introduce new voices from across VA’s innovation community to participate here with us as we grow this conversation.

Our goal for a more Veteran-centered and innovative VA is shared. Our approach to innovation is collaborative. Our solutions and efforts to improve VA are built through partnerships, and aligned action. With your help, and your voice, we can continue to support those building a better, more Veteran-centered VA.

About the author:  This article was submitted by the VA Center for Innovation. You can read the original story here.  You can read more stories at VACI’s Medium page – www.medium.com/vainnovationand be sure to follow them on Twitter as @VAInnovation


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Published on Aug. 25, 2016

Estimated reading time is 4.2 min.

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One Comment

  1. David Reitter August 26, 2016 at 3:47 pm

    While taking an English III class in technical writing , students had to give three talks in front of the class.
    Veteran had a B grade going into the final talk & semester end. The VA was the topic & I choked or was lost for words , when talking about soldiers losing their legs. Students in the class started jeering , laughing & saying stuff like , “I knew there was something wrong with him “. Received a D in the class. There is definitely something wrong with our culture , when there are people not seeing , hearing or wanting to learn the price of freedom.

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