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Sunshine Week at the Department of Veterans Affairs

Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, discusses the work his department is doing to ensure government is open and efficient.

Ed. Note: This post is part of our Sunshine Week series on the blog. Sunshine Week is a national initiative to celebrate and focus on government transparency and open government.

The mission of the Department of Veterans Affairs – enshrined in our building – is “to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan.”  For our men and women in uniform who have fought for our country – serving them is a privilege and responsibility we take very seriously.  At the VA, we are committed to continuing to meet and surpass our highest standards of care for each and every veteran, each and every day. Open government helps us do this: the publication of key health-related data to increase transparency, the creation of technological tools helping veterans to participate, and the harnessing of new ideas for innovation and collaboration, all fuel our mission.

During Sunshine Week we are reflecting on our accomplishments – not so we can rest, but so we can take inspiration to build on our successes. We’re on a deliberate and thoughtful path to become an even more people-centric, results-driven, and forward-looking organization. I invite you to visit to see for yourself.  Here is a sample of important steps we have taken:

Health-Related Transparency Open Government Initiatives and Technical Tools

  • Blue Button: In September 2010, we launched "Blue Button" capability that allows Veterans to download their personal health information from their My HealtheVet account. We developed Blue Button with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Department of Defense, along with the Markle Foundation’s Consumer Engagement Workgroup. Since its launch, VA has had 125,000 unique Blue Button users; our partners have had over tens of thousands additional users. Incredibly, several industry partners have already created applications for mobile devices or web-based platforms to enhance users’ experience of Blue Button information. This is just one example of how the promise of open government can be realized – freeing the flow of information so that ordinary citizens (and extraordinary heroes) can benefit in their daily lives.
  • Fast Track: In August 2010, we published the regulation that makes Veterans who served in Vietnam and who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, ischemic heart disease, or hairy-cell leukemia eligible for health care and disability compensation benefits. After the Congressional review period, we started processing claims on October 30, 2010. With our industry partner, we developed the first end-to-end electronic claims processing system and are scaling this capability so all Veteran claims can be processed within 125 days.
  • Data on We at VA take seriously the need to be transparent in the performance of VA Medical Centers. In November 2010, we published the ASPIRE tool, where Veterans can review how their hospital is performing against set goals. All these efforts to release health-related information show our determination to be open and accountable. As a health care organization, information transparency is key to providing quality care.

Participation and Collaboration Initiatives

  • VA Innovation Initiative: We also conducted employee competitions, inviting colleagues to share their ideas to improve benefits claims processing and delivery of health care services for Veterans and their families. These contests – using web tools that make it easy, convenient, and electronically safe to submit and vote on original ideas – allow best ideas to bubble to the top. Over 50,000 VA employees contributed 10,000 ideas, and we are currently implementing 35 of these ideas and are planning our next employee innovation competition.
  • Last June, we launched the VAi2 Industry Competition, this time asking our industry and academia partners to address six VA challenges:
    • Developing next-generation telehealth solutions
    • Improving polytrauma care
    • Preventing adverse drug events
    • Finding new models of care for dialysis and chronic kidney disease
    • Enabling Veteran entrepreneurship through Business Accelerator services
    • Deploying innovative housing solutions to reduce Veteran homelessness

We received about 300 proposals and selected over 20 after a careful review for further exploration and implementation.

  • New Media: Communication is key to open government. In October 2010 we launched our first blog, VAntage Point, to enable a two-way dialogue with Veterans, their families, and citizens. VA continues to lead on other social media platforms with over 81,000 fans on Facebook and 10,000 followers on Twitter.

Our work on open government has helped us with better ways of doing business, harnessing the best information technologies, cutting red tape, and breaking through the bureaucracy. We owe it to our courageous military men and women to do better, and open government work is taking us there.

Eric Shinseki is the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.