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MISSION Act

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks (MISSION) Act of 2018 strengthens VA’s ability to offer community care. Through MISSION Act, VA is increasing access to community health care and local walk-in services, expanding benefit eligibility for Veteran caregivers, and increasing access to VA telehealth services.

On June 6, 2019, VA’s Office of Information and Technology (OIT) launched the Decision Support Tool (DST) and enhancements to ten legacy systems across the country to fulfill key requirements of the MISSION Act’s community care changes. Leading up to the initial delivery of these key requirements, OIT worked shoulder-to-shoulder with Veterans Health Administration (VHA) colleagues and other offices throughout VA to champion the initial launch of the capabilities and promote exceptional customer service across the enterprise.

 

Key Accomplishments

Months of effort across OIT divisions facilitated success with our VHA customers and ultimately benefitted our Veterans.

DevOps Integration

OIT accomplished in 5 months what would traditionally take over 18 months by leveraging DevOps methodologies and emphasizing collaboration and communication throughout the development, testing, fielding, operating, and monitoring of DST.

Development

OIT worked closely with VHA to elicit requirements, adopted the Agile discipline, and worked tirelessly to deliver functionality for DST and ten legacy supporting systems.

IT Operations

Over 6,000 members of the IT Operations and Services team were fully ready to support on launch day. Embracing DevOps collaboration, IT staff established the Joint Operations Center, conducted MISSION Act Daily Exercises, and established full Area Manager engagement, posturing the enterprise to deliver on June 6 and beyond.

Communication Planning

OIT set the standard for leading consistent and transparent communications with our internal and external stakeholders throughout this effort.

OIT’S Role and Focus on Partnership

OIT and VHA staff monitor DST implementation from the VA Joint Operations Center in Washington, D.C.

MISSION Act implementation on June 6 was a success due to the close partnership and communication between OIT and VHA. A key component of this success was the coordination and engagement with partners, stakeholders, and colleagues out in the field. Senior leadership engaged with area managers and field staff, both virtually and in person, as they worked to implement the requirements of the MISSION Act at each of their sites.

VHA and OIT worked shoulder-to-shoulder throughout the launch, setting up a Joint Operations Center at VA Central Office in Washington, D.C. to monitor planning, deployment, and application performance activities and to direct roll out of MISSION Act technologies and efforts across VA. The close alignment of business and IT functions paved a path of success on June 6; both teams were fully-prepared for launch. Everyone from leadership to end users to local IT staff worked together to train and prepare.

Emissaries in the Field

OIT and VHA leadership visited 5 initial operating capability (IOC) test sites in May and 28 field locations across the country on June 6, 2019. Every leadership representative participating in the emissary visits found them to be a valuable and worthwhile experience that helped attendees learn more about VA, VHA, and OIT and empathize with business customers.

In addition, emissaries and leadership of both OIT and VHA regularly met with Area Managers to make sure that they had their fingers on the pulse of MISSION Act activities as they were happening. This led to improved responsiveness and rapid resolution of issues, which in turn helped VA employees in the field focus on what mattered: learning to use the Decision Support Tool to improve Veteran care.

MISSION Act Champions engaged with OIT and VHA leadership, sharing updates, guidance, resources, and information with staff. Engaging, coordinating, and utilizing champions armed offices and programs with critical information updates around MISSION Act progress and delivery.

Area leadership unanimously reported strong morale and well-trained personnel. They also reported excellent responsiveness from the cross-functional team in the Joint Operations Center.

Mr. Gary Stevens, Deputy Chief Information Security Officer and Executive Director, Cybersecurity Policy and Strategy, and OIT colleagues in Cleveland, Ohio on MISSION Act launch day

Operations Preparations Leads to Launch Success

To facilitate a seamless Decision Support Tool deployment and uninterrupted service to medical personnel and Veterans, OIT worked closely with VHA staff to establish the Joint Operations Center. This hub served as a command center for VHA, OIT, and other key Department subject matter experts to ensure issues were quickly identified, escalated, and resolved. Medical centers established local area command centers to provide on-site support for clinicians and users.

Teams coordinated and thoroughly tested production support processes, roles and responsibilities, and knowledge management information prior to go-live. Month-long MISSION Act Daily Exercises prior to go-live helped set initial strategy and identify key points of contact for major incidents. In these exercises, OIT triage teams went through both large and small-scale hypothetical scenarios. The teams applied lessons learned to the potential real-life scenarios and worked through each situation. These exercises helped OIT anticipate possible worst-case scenarios and address them prior to launch.

As part of the operations team’s issue escalation and triage mechanisms, they determined efficient ways to identify ticket categories early in the issue resolution process. This streamlined the ticketing system and allowed IT support to prioritize tickets that affected MISSION Act-related activities and operations.

Decision Support Tool testers at the Corporal Michael J. Crescenz VA Medical Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Communication and Planning

The communication planning and execution in OIT set the bar for consistent, transparent communication across the entire VA organization.

Sharing all progress, key milestones, future plans, and even road bumps in the process was crucial not only to maintaining trust, but also to ensuring that everyone was educated and informed on the status of MISSION Act — maintaining high morale and dedication to delivery. OIT also took advantage of multiple communication routes such as Slack channels, daily and weekly scrum meetings, Skype meetings and calls, in-person check-ins, and travel to sites. These efforts ensured that activities were on schedule and that team members understood not only their roles and responsibilities, but leadership’s reinforcement and assistance with delivering MISSION Act key requirements.

In May, the Chief Information Officer designated the month as “MISSION Act Month,” driving further content creation and drastically increasing traffic to the intranet site. This designation was made thanks to a suggestion by our team to personalize MISSION Act by featuring employees across the enterprise and their hard work, dedication, and collaboration throughout MISSION Act Month. Through frequent “MISSION Act Moments,” OIT shared human-interest stories that spanned the entire country and showed VA employees’ preparedness to deliver MISSION Act requirements on time.

By the time we achieved our initial June milestone, MISSION Act accounted for more than a quarter of the traffic on the OIT intranet website.

OIT MISSION ACT OUTREACH BY THE NUMBERS

  • 42,444 unique page views on the MISSION Act intranet webpage
  • More than 350 briefings
  • Over 75 MISSION Act communications products created (and counting)
  • More than 50 Frequently Asked Questions published
  • 13 MISSION Act Moments published including blogs, photos, and videos
  • 5 communication packages and toolkits prepared
  • 4 training videos posted
  • 3 websites launched
  • 2 OIT-wide town halls conducted
  • 2 fact sheets created
  • 1 MISSION Act overview video published
  • 1 crisis readiness communication plan published
  • 1 OIT-wide MISSION Act After-Action Report published

We're Not Done Yet

MISSION Act didn’t end in June. OIT continues to deliver new functionality, updates, and upgrades to IT systems to meet MISSION Act requirements. We’re making continuous updates to the Decision Support Tool and the ten legacy systems tied to community care. We’re also releasing IT software to support the expansion of VA’s Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers under the Caregiver Support Program. Over time — and beginning with OIT’s recent nationwide rollout of the new Caregiver Record Management Application to support the Caregiver Support Program — more family caregivers will have access to the program expansion and more eligible Veterans will receive the support and benefits they need.

This year, embracing true DevOps culture, we improved our delivery, understanding, and use of Minimum Viable Products in OIT. We delivered initial versions of our IT products quickly, continuously improved them, iteratively added functions and features, and incorporated real-time customer feedback.

Minimum Viable Products help VA reduce costs and deliver functionality more rapidly — enabling the exceptional service our Veterans deserve.

OIT delivered on our promise on June 6 — but we’re not done yet. We’re taking the lessons learned from MISSION Act and applying them to all future launches for major programs, including the Caregiver Record Management Application, the Colmery Act, and Electronic Health Record Modernization.

Page last updated on January 21, 2020