The Challenge

How might we encourage recently discharged veterans to take advantage of the VA services available to them?

The Outcome

A mentorship framework where information is passed one-on-one.

 

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What It Is

In this collaboration between SVA Products of Design and the Veterans Affairs Experience Office, Manako and her team of classmates explored ways to increase engagement of young, recently discharged veterans with the services at the VA. Using IDEO’s human-centered approach (interviewing users, generating design principles, and producing tangible insights), the team used the research to fuel the design of the final proposal, Mission Continues.

 
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Key Findings

The research revealed that the most difficult barrier to engagement is that if one is not aware of the services available to her, she does not even think to find out about her eligibility. Building on the insights from over 20 first-person interviews with VA staff and veterans, the team identified three opportunity areas:

Vet-to-Vet: a young veteran is more likely to pay attention and communicate interest when the information is delivered veteran-to-veteran.

Bad Rep: young veterans have negative perception of the VA due to the news of scandals spread by the media, when in actuality, the team heard time and time again that the VA NY Hospital offered excellent services.

Vets Take Care of Vets: Veterans share a sense of a larger mission and want to help the veteran community.

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How It Works

Using a digital platform, both experienced veterans (mentors) and recent veterans (mentees) first complete questionnaires. The service, then, matches mentors and mentees and sends its suggestions to them via email.

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Framework

 
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Partnership with the Mission Continues

The laws restricting governmental institutions, including the VA, to advertise their services made it difficult for the VA to engage with young veterans. Partnering with a nongovernmental organization such as Mission Continues enables corporate sponsorship and advertisements.

After researching a wide array of organizations, the group settled on “The Mission Continues”—an organization that already appeals to younger veterans. Their declared purpose on their website entirely aligns with the earlier research: ‘The Mission Continues empowers veterans who are adjusting to life at home to find purpose through community impact.’”


The VA is not allowed to advertise their services to the public. By envisioning a partnership with the Mission Continues, the team sought to leverage supporting brand partnerships to reach their audience, raise awareness, and promote participation.

 
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Engaging experienced veterans

While the advertisements mostly target recently discharged veterans, the VA can reach out to experienced veterans who already use the services. By asking these veterans to become mentors, the program essentially asks them to be ambassadors for the VA.


Mentor Toolkit

The mentorship program is a system that facilitates communication to veterans through other veterans by connecting experienced veterans to recent veterans and guiding their meetings through the tailored toolkits. The information that is personalized in the words of other veterans then trigger interest in recent veterans, thus overcoming the most difficult barrier of engagement.

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Research Process

Following the IDEO research methodology of Human Centered Design, this project relied heavily on user interviews. Using a ton of post-it notes, the team downloaded and synthesized all the interview findings together, generating design principles, and producing tangible insights.