Cloud Exchange 2022: VA’s Dave Mazik on transforming veteran services

Through the VA Lighthouse project, Dave Mazik leads a team focused on transforming digital experiences for veterans. He sits down at the Federal News Network Cl...

The Veterans Affairs Department is giving its patients greater access and control of their health and benefits data as part of an ongoing digital services transformation.

Dave Mazik, director of the Lighthouse platform in VA’s Office of Information Technology, said VA has data on more than 9 million patients, and that about 6 million of them received VA care within the past year.

The VA’s enterprise cloud is the foundation for how the agency shares health and benefit data with veterans, Mazik said during the Federal News Network Cloud Exchange 2022.

“The ability to serve that data up in the cloud, just in a reliable and performative way, is so much easier than having to build all that infrastructure in a dedicated server farm in VA. So just that ability to scale up and that ability to process and manage just immense amounts of data in a high-quality fashion is so much easier with what cloud enables,” he said.

Creating ease of service access at VA

The Lighthouse platform provides veterans with their VA data through Application Program Interfaces. These APIs give veterans and organizations secure access to information on appeals, benefits, health and verification of veteran status.

“An analogy we often give is that it’s like that wall socket accessing electricity for devices you may have in your home. It’s really how you get that data and services that you need from VA, using either VA developed applications or third-party trusted and approved applications that veterans want to connect,” Mazik said.

The Lighthouse program aims to provide veterans with a digital experience on par with the level of customer service available online from the private sector. Mazik said veterans are also increasingly seeking VA benefits and services online.

“Lighthouse is really set up to essentially be that easy front door, to provide access to data and services that are critical to those veterans and giving them the choice of whether they use natively VA-developed applications they want to bring on devices they have, that they want to connect to their VA data in ways that they choose,” Mazik said.

VA’s enterprise cloud migration thorough Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services has allowed the agency to scale up to meet veterans’ demand for digital services, he said.

“Especially when we’re talking about enabling veterans with applications of their choice, we really can’t control the demand. It’s up to the veteran and how they want to use their apps and connect to their data. Cloud really enables us to scale and still maintain really good end-user experience and performance,” Mazik said.

A wide array of self-serve digital tools for veterans

Among the Lighthouse platform capabilities, veterans can seamlessly connect up to 10 years of their health history.

“They essentially provide their VA credentials once, and then their application of choice, among those approved by VA, is able to download all that information in a way that’s convenient for them to both access and share in ways that they choose,” Mazik said.

VA’s push to offer digital experiences has led to veterans being able to submit benefits claims as a self-service option through

“A lot of veterans work with veteran service organizations to help them through that process. Traditionally, they would sit down with them at the end of that. They would print out a piece of paper, and they would either mail that or fax that to VA. So what we’ve done is we’ve enabled that to become a digital transaction,” Mazik said.

VA processes about 75,000 benefits claims a month, he said.

VA is also taking steps to ensure that the sharing of veteran data in the cloud is secure.

“You want to do a zero trust, veteran-focused security. Basically, when a veteran accesses their data, we simply don’t want that application to have carte blanche access to all veterans’ data. We want that security to be scoped to the veteran, so if there does happen to be a breach or security issue, that attack surface is limited to one user’s data rather than the entire patient population,” Mazik said. “In addition to that, we want to make sure that the veteran really understands what the application is doing, how it’s connecting to VA, what data it’s going to be pulling down. And then once the data is being pulled down into their application that’s approved by VA, what is the application going to do with the data?”

VA conducts a thorough privacy policy review of third-party apps to ensure that they align with the agency’s ethics principles for sharing veteran data.

“They’re written in plain language so veterans can understand them. It really describes the lifecycle of their data and what data is pulled from VA, so that they’re really in the driver’s seat if they see something they don’t like. They can say, ‘No,’ and decide to not use that application or make sure that they’re comfortable in granting that application approval to connect to their data,” Mazik said.

Using automation to speed VA benefits claim processing

VA since December 2021 has also begun automating aspects of how it processes benefits claims.

Mazik said this automation has reduced a 50-day approval timeline down to two days, in some cases. The department has also saved over 20,000 waiting days for veterans in the benefits adjudication process through its automation efforts, he added.

“What we enabled in the backend, think of it like this little micro-engine running in the background on that claim. We’re looking at VA’s health history to see if that veteran actually is a patient and looking for certain conditions they already may have. What we’re essentially doing is automating that claims adjudication to take health data into consideration in conjunction with the benefits claim,” Mazik said.

Check out all the sessions from the Federal News Network Cloud Exchange 2022.

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