Virtual assistant

This virtual assistant uses AI to improve case management at VA

The head of the agency’s Veterans Readiness Division explains new digital tools that are improving employment services for veterans.

The federal program that helps veterans with service-related disabilities explore employment and education options is using more digital tools to improve how it communicates with veterans and provides customer service.

The head of the program, called the Veterans Readiness and Employment (VR&E) Division under the Veterans Benefits Administration of the Department of Veterans Affairs, described several new modernization initiatives it has implemented. during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as digitization and virtual video capabilities.

Before the pandemic, the division was “still a paper-intensive business,” executive director Nick Pamperin told GovCIO Media & Research. “A counselor would have a threefold folder where he would write notes by hand and enter them into a computer system. Obviously not being able to get into the office, it just wasn’t going to work. In the 72 hours of implementing COVID protocols, VR&E routed all incoming paper mail to our centralized provider, then scanned and uploaded into the Veterans Benefits Management System for [we] could still … maintain continuity of case management.

Additionally, VR&E was already offering some virtual services before the pandemic. Pamperin said VA has changed its processes and procedures to continue providing interactive services to veterans, such as counseling and career services, and also to enhance its existing virtual capabilities.

One of the main services operated by the division was its VA Video Connect. The platform allows veterans and their caregivers to meet with VA healthcare providers via live video on any computer, tablet or mobile device with an internet connection. The telecounselling platform allowed the broader agency to interact and engage with veterans, and it enabled those career counselors to continue that engagement.

“We have extended telecounselling to our entire veteran population. We were ready to succeed for that,” Pamperin said. “During COVID-19, we’ve scheduled over 200,000, nearly 210,000, virtual telecounselling appointments with veterans, so this still allows for that face-to-face interaction that our counselors need.”

To streamline its customer service, the division implemented an electronic virtual assistant called e-VA in 2020 to automate routine administrative tasks and create additional layers of communication between veteran advisors.

“It’s a big change in communication. It enables two-way email communications, allowing veterans to perform several services they previously couldn’t if they hadn’t contacted their counselor by phone,” Pamperin said.

The AI-powered virtual assistant allows veterans to schedule and reschedule appointments, text and email their counselor, and submit documents privately and securely from their own devices. The new platform was designed to improve customer service and provide quick responses.

“There’s some artificial intelligence that he leverages in there as he looks at the tone of the emails and the content to help drive the veteran to the service they need,” Pamperin said. “One of the ways it’s really benefited from the streamlining features is that it allows for two-way email communication. … We can track responsiveness and timeliness in a much more robust way.

The tool also sets up automatic alerts for veterans and advisors, sends follow-up messages and appointment reminders, and automates the documentation of routine communications. The platform will update VA’s internal case management system as veterans enter new information, which in turn will improve continuity of care and communication capabilities.

Since implementing e-VA and with an adoption rate of 96%, the agency has already been able to automatically schedule 360,000 appointments, Pamperin said. This has both allowed veterans to take control of their communication with the agency and reduced the labor burden on VA.

“This is truly a victory for the veterans and for our advisers on the pitch,” Pamperin said.

The division is looking to expand veteran adoption of the tool to better reach underserved populations, like rural veterans, in a “much more user-friendly capacity.”

“One of the ways we continue or strive to serve rural areas or just underserved veterans in general is through e-VA. Here at the service level we have the ability to send targeted communications directly to veterans,” Pamperin said. “We were able to send 10,000 veterans who were ready to work a specific, targeted message that said, ‘We have these three employers who are all looking for jobs in the following 10 skills.'”

As part of the division’s strategic roadmap, VR&E is also aligning with President Biden’s recent guidance around cybersecurity, supply chain and customer experience.

“We must continue to capitalize on the successes that modernization has brought to VR&E. We must continue to seek to modernize not only our technology, but also our processes and procedures,” Pamperin said.