In a drive to connect California’s more than 1.8 million veterans to state and federal benefits, the California Department of Veterans Affairs on April 23 announced a major overhaul of its website and introduced myCalVet, an interactive site tool that matches veteran profiles to tailored resources.
The site update and tool, announced at the California State Capitol in Sacramento by department Secretary Peter Gravett and other veteran officals, required two years and roughly $500,000 to develop. However, the department is banking on it to streamline veteran claims, loan processes and to be a user-friendly guide to bypass complexities and application hurdles. Among the site’s wide listing of resources is educational material explaining disability claims, college tuition assistance, employment networking, home purchases, and details to other state and federal programs.
“Our hope is that veterans from throughout the state will be able to better connect with the services and benefits that they have available from the state government, federal government and within their local community,” said Deputy Secretary Keith Boylan of the department’s Veterans Services Division.
As a major facilitator in this process, the site’s myCalVet tool acts as both an information repository and bridge between veterans and the government.
For veterans, myCalVet is largely to be seen as a director, a sifter that channels veterans to resources based on their individual user profiles they complete upon signup.
For the government — city, state and federal — the site will act as a statistical database, gathering user activity and information to assist government officials on veteran needs and providing insight into statistical and demographic data.
Notwithstanding the site’s official launch, the department foresees it to be a constantly evolving product that changes over time. Next steps for the site rely on veteran feedback to gauge effectiveness and how easily it can be accessed. Long term, Boylan said there are quite a few factors that could influence its design and mechanics.
California Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Peter Gravett, in suit and red tie, stands with California veterans officials at the launch of the department's new interactive website. Photo by Jason Shueh
“I think it will always be a work in progress as any website is,” Boylan said. “The information will continually change, there’s new benefits and new legislation that affects those benefits every day, so it will be certainly updated as we move along.”
With that iterative mindset, officials added that the site was designed with Microsoft SharePoint as a content management system (CMS). The SharePoint CMS was chosen so staff without skills in IT can still take ownership and manage site information of their specific programs. Previously, staff had to send request tickets to IT personnel before anything could be adjusted on the site.
The department’s Deputy Secretary for Communications and Legislation J.P. Tremblay said ease of access was crucial for the site’s design, and not just for staff, but especially for veterans who seek a straight path to benefits and assistance services. A mobile-friendly layout, profile pages that pull in customized information and a structure of that requires a minimal amount of clicks for searches are all part of this intuitive focus.
“The idea was to break away from the organizational chart structure of websites in state government and get into something that’s customer-based,” Tremblay said. “It’s a whole different approach.”
Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.