VR&E Counselors Using AI
Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) assists Servicemembers, Veterans and/or eligible family members with job training, employment accommodations, resume development, and job-seeking. When VR&E wanted to offer Veterans more flexibility in how they communicate with VR&E and improve operating efficiency, it partnered with the Office of Information and Technology (OIT) and the Office of Business Process Integration (OBPI). Together, they will soon introduce e-VA, the first large-scale artificial intelligence (AI) tool in the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA).
e-VA stands for Electronic Virtual Assistant. e-VA is powered by a commercial software product called Semi-Autonomous Research Assistant (SARA), which is like the technology widely used in the banking and hospitality industries.
Veterans who prefer to use text messages or email to communicate with VR&E can use e-VA to get answers to basic questions, schedule and reschedule appointments, and receive reminders. They can also easily use their mobile phone to scan and upload documents needed by their VR&E counselor.
In addition to offering Veterans greater convenience, e-VA will save VR&E counselors approximately 34,000 hours each year.
Kevin Scott, Assistant Director of Operations, VR&E, VBA Central Office, said, “We conducted a time study of how our counselors were spending time annually across small, medium, and large facilities. We found that a large part of their workload was scheduling and rescheduling appointments. Thanks to e-VA, we can reinvest counselors’ time into additional counseling activities to continue to improve services to Veterans.”
By purchasing SARA as a cloud-based Software as a Service rather than developing the capability from scratch, OIT was able to save money and make it accessible to Veterans sooner.
VA expects to release e-VA at the end of the 2019 fiscal year.
OIT will continue to collaborate with VR&E and other partners within VBA to provide innovative solutions like e-VA that meet Veteran and stakeholder needs today and better prepare VA to respond to future needs.