AWS Government, Education, & Nonprofits Blog

Vets.gov on AWS GovCloud (US): A Single Place for Veterans to Discover, Apply for, Track, and Manage Their Benefits

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides patient care and federal benefits to Veterans and their dependents. The organization is split up into silos of health, benefit, and cemetery benefits; VA’s web presence was similarly fractured and users had difficulty interacting with VA online.

The U.S. Digital Service team at VA looked across VA’s many products from the point of view of the Veteran. What do they want to do? How do they want to interact with VA? They started as a small team, iteratively building out features on Vets.gov.

Vets.gov addresses the problem that VA has hundreds of websites and web applications that a Veteran may need to navigate and access with different usernames and passwords to accomplish critical tasks like applying for VA health care, refilling a prescription, or keeping track of a disability claim. Now, VA is creating a single place for Veterans to discover, apply for, track, and securely manage the benefits they have earned, using any device.

Vets.gov runs on AWS and was the first product approved at VA to run in production on any commercial cloud provider. The website is hosted in the AWS GovCloud (US) Region, Amazon’s cloud region designed to host sensitive data, regulated workloads, and address the most stringent U.S. government security and compliance requirements.

Beginning with the launch of the first products on Vets.gov on November 11, 2015, the team has built Vets.gov in an iterative manner, open sourcing all website code and building out a modern continuous integration and continuous deployment pipeline based on best practices in the private sector. The team talks to Veterans in research sessions, defines what needs to be built, builds it, ships it, and iterates. Vets.gov now sees more than 1.5 million visits per month as well as massively increased uptime and an improved user experience relative to previous VA sites.

 “We were blazing the trail at VA because no one had connected the VA network to the commercial cloud before. Our goal is to allow teams within VA to use modern technologies and practices,” said Alex Loehr, Deputy CTO at VA. “We were able to show how the cloud brings cost savings, flexibility, and speed. Working through VA to get AWS approved has allowed other teams to see the opportunities and possibilities with the cloud.”

Another organization within the VA that is using the cloud is the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. It can take over five years to get through the appeals process, which is run and managed on decades-old technologies. To increase productivity, the VA team created Caseflow Reader, an evidence review tool backed up on AWS GovCloud (US). After three months of building Reader iteratively alongside a small user group, the team ramped up usage to all Board attorneys and Veterans Law Judges. The phased rollout approach allowed the team to release a product that is truly tailored to meet the specific needs of Board employees, which prioritizes their most pressing pain points and directly supports the Board’s ability to produce timely appeals decisions.

“There is a lot to be said about the value of the cloud when it is not just customer-facing tools, but internal, process tools as well,” said Aaron Wieczorek, a site reliability engineer at the Digital Service.

Read more about the successes of The U.S. Digital Service team here.