When a Veteran uses a mobile phone app to connect to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) information or services, they deserve a fast, efficient, and secure experience. This element of trust is why guidance for developing digital apps for Veterans is tied to VA’s Ethics Principles for Access to and Use of Veteran Data framework.
To safeguard Veterans’ data, VA’s Office of Information and Technology (OIT) is a leader in agency adherence to VA’s nine Ethics Principles. Drew Myklegard, OIT’s Executive Director, Product Engineering Division, spearheaded using the framework in 2019, after it was created by the Data Ethics Work Group led by Dr. Kenneth Berkowitz and the Veterans Health Administration’s National Center for Ethics in Health through the VA Interoperability Leadership (VAIL) team. Dr. Helga Rippen, VA’s Chief Interoperability and Veteran Access Officer, leads the VAIL team. Built with input from Veterans, the framework of ethics principles for access to and use of Veterans’ data sets data management and privacy standards for VA staff and partners to follow.
Among VA’s partners are companies developing iOS and Android mobile phone apps for Veterans. Every app they make that connects to VA data has to use VA’s Lighthouse Application Programming Interface (API) Platform to link with VA. Therefore, VAIL’s Data Ethics Work Group closely worked with OIT, Mr. Myklegard, and his teams to implement the ethics principles into Lighthouse API Platform business processes.
“OIT is moving this effort forward in an amazing way and the Lighthouse API is a prime example,” Dr. Rippen says. “Vendors who build interfaces to the VA, review and implement development guidelines tied directly to our principles. We serve Veterans first and this clearly demonstrates leadership’s commitment to our framework.”
The Lighthouse API Platform requires VA staff and business partners use the framework when building digital apps for Veterans’ benefits, health, facilities, and identity verification. VA has used APIs for mobile and web apps for years and the Lighthouse API is VA’s next generation open digital platform to deliver rapid innovation in core VA functions. To access the data and tools needed to build apps on a standard set of APIs designed for Veterans, third-party organizations building apps with Lighthouse APIs must answer detailed questions verifying they will support the ethics principles of the framework.
“We want to ensure that Veterans are in full control of what applications connect to their VA data,” says IT Product Manager Dave Mazik. “We want Veterans to be fully aware of what third-party applications do with their data and that their data is properly secured. Most importantly, we want to ensure these applications benefit Veterans while still addressing VA policy and privacy concerns.”
Currently vetted apps using the framework are available, plus there are nearly 60 new apps in production. VA shares extensive usage policies and technical details related to its API offerings.
VA’s framework is one of the government’s and tech industry’s strongest statements on ethical data practices, privacy, confidentiality, autonomy, and use of Veteran data. As the VA continues to modernize its technology and systems to enhance users’ experience with the latest digital tools, VA remains steadfast in its commitment to protect Veterans data using strong ethical data management practices.