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VA Will Soon Release Data Strategy

A data repository is bolstering the agency’s overall modernization program and consolidating data efforts.

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The Department of Veterans Affairs is making concrete steps to advance its data strategy, including a strong focus on incorporating learnings from other forward-looking wings of the federal government.

Speaking at the FedInsider Driving Government’s Mission Through Data forum, Veterans Affairs Chief Data Officer Kshemendra Paul noted the agency has reached new milestones in solidifying its data strategy around both federal standards and buy-in throughout the VA as a whole.

“We’re working under the rubric of the Foundations of Evidence-Based Policymaking Act, the Data Act, the Geospatial Data Act, and Federal Data Strategy that are driving a real renaissance with data as a strategic asset across the federal space,” Paul said. “We recently issued our capstone data management directive. We’ve been in the final stages and will soon issue our VA data strategy.”

Paul emphasized that one of the fundamental goals of the VA’s data strategy is to leverage the agency’s considerable data repository to improve both agency services and engage in a continuous learning process that drives further modernization.

“The vision we’re driving toward is using data — managed data, integrated data, quality data — to support and strengthen VA’s journey as a learning enterprise. Both in continuous improvement through operational decision support at every echelon and evidence-based policymaking to continually improve how we serve veterans,” he said.

Much of the VA’s modernization program and its reforms in services for veterans have been accomplished in tandem with the Defense Department, particularly in fostering a continuity of care designed to improve health and overall life outcomes for retired servicemembers. This has resulted in a deepening collaboration between the VA and DOD counterparts toward jointly refining shared data priorities.

“Another key aspect of our strategy is our partnership with the Department of Defense. Between the two departments, we have a very close working relationship and constituency with servicemembers that then become veterans. We’re working on a joint vision and strategy for data and analytics … the key idea there is to recognize and build on customer experience journey mapping,” Paul said.

Paul noted that the ongoing work on VA’s data strategy was motivated in part by the impact and reach of its mission, as well as the potential for sophisticated data use considering the quantity of underutilized metrics the agency has at its disposal.

“We have a clearly identified singular customer … the entire populations of 19.5 million living veterans in the country. So that gives us a great ability to focus on integrating our data holdings in ways that are maximally impactful on our ability to serve veterans and provide access and quality outcomes,” Paul said.

The VA’s health care integration efforts and COVID-19 response also appear to have paid dividends in helping guide the agency’s data strategy through providing the infrastructure necessary to consolidate and manage larger quantities of dynamic information.

“We put in place a common operating platform that is focused on federated data management and operational decision support,” Paul said. “COVID-19 is a new disease, and our learning about it is continuing to compound. We had to use this modern technology to have that common operating platform. The heart of it is a patient object model — we’ve been able to integrate data from approximately 560 data sources into an integrated view that supports more effective operational decision management.”

Looking forward, Paul outlined that much of VA’s future data efforts will center on finding ways to responsibly and carefully use more sensitive data to advance the agency’s IT modernization while upholding the privacy of VA customers.

“There’s a lot of activity right now across the federal space, and VA in particular, around enhanced information sharing. That includes the information sharing of datasets that may have [personally identifying information]. Of course, that’s done in an appropriate policy framework and a court of law with a valid and ethical purpose for doing that — in our case, to better serve veterans, their families, caregivers and survivors,” he said.

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