VETERANS BENEFITS ADMINISTRATION'S (VBA) EDUCATION SERVICE
Charmain Bogue and Robert Orifici are being recognized for their efforts to implement the August 2017 Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act (commonly referred to as the Forever GI Bill). This bill expanded benefits for Veterans and GI Bill beneficiaries but also changed how certain housing benefits were calculated. The implementation of these benefit changes initially failed as a result of the project lacking a clear leader, according to the agency’s inspector general. In November 2018, the Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary announced a decision to reset the implementation of these provisions in the Forever GI Bill.
On December 1, 2019 the project was successfully implemented, and GI Bill beneficiaries are correctly receiving their benefits in accordance with the law. Now the team is diligently working on making GI Bill beneficiaries whole. A huge part of the success is due to the roles that Charmain Bogue, Executive Director of VBA's Education Service and Robert Orifici, Education Portfolio Manager, played on the project.
As the project pivoted, Mrs. Bogue and Mr. Orifici worked across interdisciplinary teams at the VA enterprise to establish buy-in for new innovative approaches and determine critical success factors. Throughout the process, they implemented innovative approaches integrating business and technology, ensured stakeholder expectations were met and that stakeholders were communicated to with greater transparency.
Mr. Orifici, as part of the Office of Information Technology, led a new approach to implementation through an agile, integrated delivery of teams required to work across multiple legacy systems to achieve desired outcomes. With a rapid response team and multidisciplinary development and testing teams that covered the range of technologies found in education claims processing system, he and his team used the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) approach. The SAFe methodology enabled a more collaborative, iterative, and efficient process that continuously incorporated business and end user feedback throughout the development and testing process, leading to improved engagement, quality, and productivity. An independent VA evaluation of performance and the team’s use of (SAFe) described “the first SAFe implementation at the VA” as “utopian.”
SERVICE TO THE CITIZEN AWARD WINNER
While the technology implementation was underway, it was also important to ensure the wider Veteran and GI Bill beneficiary community was engaged in the process as well since after all, these changes would have a direct impact on their lives.
Part of the new approach was to revolutionize the way the VA communicated and engaged with stakeholders. Under Mrs. Bogue’s direction, she and her team crafted a data-driven communication strategy that went beyond traditional methods the VBA’s Education Service team had used in the past. In addition to letters and emails, they communicated across social channels such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and the professional network for U.S. military and Veterans called RallyPoint. Further, the Education Service team also delivered over 30 virtual and in-person workshops, focus groups, open houses and “demo days” with different stakeholder groups to inform and train VA staff and schools, as well as receive feedback on the rollout process while it was occurring. VA also conducted a rigorous data analysis to better understand the projected benefits impact to GI Bill beneficiaries and tailor communications for that population.
Since February 2019, the VA has implemented a multi-pronged, consistent outreach approach to millions of stakeholders impacted by changes stemming from the Forever GI Bill. For example, the VA delivered over 5.4 million targeted emails to GI Bill Beneficiaries, School Certifying Officials (SCOs), and State Approving Agencies (SAAs). In-person engagement through a nationwide school tour reached 300+ students. Along the way, Mrs. Bogue’s team received encouraging feedback – such as, “I applaud VA’s efforts for the GI Bill School Tour. It is really important to have grassroots engagement and get boots on the ground.” During a live GI Bill Q&A on RallyPoint, Mrs. Bogue ranked second for all-time for impressions and reached more than 100k RallyPoint members.
Perhaps the biggest example of success was a standing ovation the Education Service team received at a conference. The team shared their experiences with this project as a shining example of how a modernized system will allow for legislative changes to be almost instantaneously implemented.
Mrs. Bogue is continuing to engage with communication and social leaders including executives at Google and LinkedIn to understand how to shift from more traditional and conventional communication channels to better connect with student GI Bill beneficiaries.
Together Mr. Orifici and Mrs. Bogue are working to better integrate and align communication capabilities to the existing IT infrastructure within the VA. The goal is to create a better experience for Veterans, servicemembers and their families.
Ms. Bogue and Mr. Orifici applied an innovative approach by equally including business, technology, and process management.
The benefit of their approach is that they included communications and training strategy that reaches hundreds of thousands of internal and external stakeholders.
5.4M emails to GI Bill Beneficiaries, School Certifying Officials (SCOs), and State Approving Agencies (SAAs)
300+ attended Education Service’s nationwide school tour
During a live GI Bill Q&A on RallyPoint, VBA’s Executive Director of Education Service, Charmain Bogue was 2nd for all-time for impressions and reached over 100k RallyPoint members
Over 10,000 attendees at open house, training, and focus groups for SCOs, GI Bill Beneficiaries, and SAAs
Team exceeded all development milestones to date to include a successful go-live on December 1, 2019, meeting the VA’s implementation reset deadline
Automation rates for housing calculation exceeded expectations; claim processing post go-live completed weeks ahead of schedule. Benefit was that GI Bill beneficiaries received accurate and timely payments.