Closing out National Military Appreciation Month is Memorial Day weekend, and things look quite different than years past.
With the end of the COVID-19 pandemic seemingly in sight, the Department of Veterans Affairs is opening up cemeteries nationwide for commemoration of this weekend.
And for those who can’t make it in person, there’s the Veterans Legacy Memorial, the VA’s digital tribute platform that gives families of veterans additional ways to honor those interred in national cemeteries via commemorative online profiles.
“It’s the first of its kind in the federal government and something that we're very proud of," said National Cemetery Administration Acting Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs Ron Walters in a recent GovCast episode. "Each veteran has a dedicated web page and a recent update to the system now allows for the uploading of photos and documents, biographies and other similar types of materials. The content is reviewed by NCA moderators to ensure it's appropriate, of course, and honors a veteran's legacy.”
Technology has shown and is continuing to show great impact in the veterans community overall, especially over the past year.
“The VA really did step up their ability to see folks in their homes when they could, and I think that was very convenient for a multitude of reasons," said Scott Hope, deputy national service director for training at Disabled American Veterans (DAV). "I think that there's a lot of skepticism from health administrators that really want that in-person experience, and what the pandemic did was show that even though we kind of sometimes prefer that, we really can do a lot of this stuff right from your computer or telephone.”
This includes successful processing of increased veteran benefits, virtual capabilities like telehealth and more.
“I think the pandemic and isolation had really encouraged and pushed VA and all the veteran service organizations and partners to collaborate in technology use," said Jon Retzer, assistant national service director at DAV, which has dedicated representatives nationwide to directly help veterans file and manage benefits claims. "One of the most important things that we had to look at was the veteran community, their needs are always consistently the same thing is that they need the health care assistance, they need the benefits assistance, and they need to be able to go to a source that can take care of all of that."
Veteran service organizations told us about impacts to memberships and resources they’re able to offer the community, plus ways in which they see investments in technology growing at VA and beyond.
“Last year we saw more survivors who had never before attended a TAPS program signed up to join and connect with us virtually than we had ever had in our history,” said Chantel Dooley, director of research and impact assessment at the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS).
Telehealth has especially impacted this community and VA at large. But VA’s tech momentum really began with its ongoing EHR modernization — and the pandemic has amplified the opportunities for technology overall.
“It is making a lot of members of Congress more aware of what technology is being used at the Department of Veterans Affairs and starting to think about, well, if we can do that, we can do this," said Justin Brown, CEO of The Nimitz Group and Founder of HillVets. "And for me that's always been the fun of technology. How can we push the needle to make things better with tech and get lift that we're not going to get with just a brick-and-mortar, human-oriented structure.”
“What we have learned from this past year is that by creating those safe spaces virtually and in person, we are able to welcome survivors from multiple different platforms in a way that is most comfortable for them," Dooley said. "It has really informed our future research and how we decide to move forward with our programs and services and we've really gotten very creative in how we're able to offer them so that both survivors attending in person and attending virtually can still feel connected and they are a part of a national organization of all those grieving in the death of a military loved one.”
“How far away are we from having a digital assistant for veterans that can look at their medical health record, can look at what benefits and services they use and can more proactively guide a veteran a family members through VA benefits, programs, services, opportunities," said Brown.
“I think we should evolve into being able to serve at any capacity, be it at home, be it in a clinic or in a hospital, or they're overseas, in foreign countries, and different time zones," Retzer said. "I think we have the ability in the modern time to do so.”
Honor a veteran this weekend virtually by going to Veterans Legacy Memorial at va.gov/remember.