Technology aids Minnesota veterans’ ability to access resources and services
11/8/2019 12:50:35 PM
Minnesota IT Services recent projects, the VATS-Education system and Homeless Veterans Registry, enhance the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs ability to provide care and resources for our state’s servicemen and women.
Governor Tim Walz declared November to be Military Family Month in Minnesota, honoring the men and women that have risked their lives in service to the state and country. State government is working to ensure these families have access to the services and resources to which they are entitled. Over the past year, Minnesota IT Services (MNIT) and the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs (MDVA) completed two projects that allow for easier self-service by veterans.
The State of Minnesota is committed to ending homelessness among its veterans, and an important step toward that goal is understanding the barriers individuals may face in accessing affordable and permanent housing. In August 2019, MNIT debuted a new application that allows housing and service professionals to more efficiently assess the needs of homeless veterans, prioritizing those that are facing the most barriers, have been experiencing homelessness the longest, or need critical care.
The application was developed using a human-centered design, by interviewing the end users, assessing their needs, and creating a more powerful application that addresses those challenges. MNIT collected feedback from the social service providers that input the information of veterans experiencing homelessness, the professionals that review the information to understand housing barriers, and the organizations that perform outreach to housing units.
“The streamlined nature of the new application allows our community partners to self-serve any updates about the veterans, housing availability, and resources available to those experiencing homelessness,” says Deanna DeMay, a member of the project team from MNIT partnering with MDVA. “The new application also provides MDVA and its community partners better data and reporting on homelessness in Minnesota, helping to identify common barriers to housing that can be addressed.”
While housing is a critical issue for those experiencing homelessness, MDVA also assists in making sure that veterans have access to the range of benefits to which they are entitled, including education, health care, and employment opportunities. Through the Minnesota GI Bill, veterans along with eligible spouses and children have access to a maximum benefit of $10,000 to use for higher education, on-the-job training or apprenticeship programs, or to reimburse fees for licenses, certification or admission tests. To better access these education benefits, MNIT worked with MDVA to overhaul the application system with a project called the Veteran Application Tracking Systems (VATS) that streamlines that information sharing of applicants and manages the need of Minnesota Veterans as well as institutions of higher education.
One of MNIT’s priorities is to modernize aging technologies, and VATS has now replaced multiple manual, paper-based processes, and an existing 15+ year old application that was expensive and difficult to support. With VATS-Education in place, there are now automated workflows for approvals, appeals and denials, and MDVA staff can access the system to make decisions on benefits from wherever they may be. Veterans can submit applications online, and with a master/single database, that houses information which can be accessed across all education programs and services. With consolidated electronic case notes, a weeks-long application process for reimbursement of tuition can be completed within a single day. VATS was built with flexibility in mind, so the application can easily accommodate changes like adding a new benefit type, business policy or process, or making modification to comply with legislative mandates. Dynamic reporting provides granular reports and audits.
“The new VATS-Education system allows MDVA to have a better relationship with Minnesota Veterans, allowing them to understand the process for their application for continuing education benefits,” says Patty Breiland, a member of the project team from MNIT partnering with MDVA. “For our business partners at MDVA, the new application also provides a better workflow management tool so that veterans can receive their benefits faster.”
Learn more about both applications on MDVA’s website: