Creating a Digital Space to Memorialize the Legacies of Veterans

  • Customer Story
  • Application Design & Development
  • Veteran & Enterprise Technology

Background

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), National Cemetery Administration (NCA) provides Veterans with final resting places in national shrines and with lasting tributes to commemorate their service and sacrifice for our nation. NCA operates 155 national cemeteries and 34 soldiers’ lots and monument sites in 42 states and Puerto Rico; more than four million Americans, including veterans of every war and conflict, are buried in these national cemeteries. VA also provides funding to establish, expand, improve, and maintain 121 veterans’ cemeteries in 48 states and territories including tribal trust lands, Guam, and Saipan. For Veterans not buried in a VA national cemetery, VA provides headstones, markers, or medallions to commemorate their service.

NCA sought to build an interactive, online memorialization solution, named the Veterans Legacy Memorial (VLM), that allowed visitors to digitally honor, cherish, and pay their respects to Veterans interred and inurned at VA national cemeteries. Taking the form of a publicly available website, NCA sought to use VLM to preserve the legacy of these Veterans by commemorating and sharing their stories. In addition to allowing survivors and family members to grieve and memorialize veterans digitally, it also sought to allow researchers, amateurs, students, and professionals to share historical and educational information about veterans and the cemeteries themselves, some of which date back to the Civil War.

Understanding the Need

To VLM initiative arose as a way to achieve Strategic Goal 3 in NCA’s FY19-23 Long Range Plan- “Veterans will be memorialized through enhanced tributes befitting their service and sacrifice to the nation.”

The NCA required a solution built upon a responsive, interactive, mobile-friendly, cloud-based platform that could not only support the large volume of data and pages required (there are 4.3+ million veterans in VA national cemeteries and VA-funded state, tribal, and territory veteran cemeteries), but also meet the needs of the various audience bases that would use VLM (e.g., veteran survivors, veteran service organizations, historians and researchers).

In addition to the right product, NCA also needed the right contracting team; one that had the skills, experience, and delivery approaches to successfully develop, enhance, integrate, deploy, and maintain the selected platform, as well as continuously deliver value as new requirements and needs arose.

 

VLM Case Study Video Image
4.3+ Million
Veteran Profiles/Pages Created
98%
User Experience Satisfaction Rate
350%
Increase in user submitted content from 2020-2021

Our Solution

Since March 2019, GovCIO has worked with NCA to deploy a feature-rich, interactive web product that allows visitors to honor, cherish, share, and pay their respects to Veterans interred at VA national cemeteries. Team GovCIO, comprising GovCIO, Keeper, dbITpro, and LinearB Systems, built and continues to evolve and maintain VLM as a digital platform to help families, survivors, and fellow Veterans take a leading role in honoring their loved ones.

GovCIO identified Keeper Software as a foundation for VLM. Keeper, a mature, tailorable Cloud-hosted Commercial-off-the-Shelf (COTS)/web solution, has a modern, intuitive, and responsive design focused around maintaining memories, stories, and artifacts for individuals. Together GovCIO and Keeper evolved the Keeper online COTS software solution to meet NCA’s unique needs and the VA’s unique security requirements.

To deliver a product that best met the objectives and needs of NCA and VLM users, our team applied human-centered design to guide the VLM design. We engaged stakeholders from VSOs VSOs such as AMVETS, the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), and HillVets, as well as our own Veterans Integration Team (VIT), consisting of 1200 veterans, and included them in our usability testing, to make sure we prioritized the veteran/user experience for VLM. This has allowed survivors, family members, and friends to focus their attention on grieving and memorializing their Veterans via an online, intuitive website. As we add new enhancements and updates to VLM, we reengage these target audiences to test and validate the continued usability and usefulness of VLM.

We used an Agile/DevSecOps delivery approach to build on and extend the initial capabilities of the Keeper software to address tailored requirements. This involved developing — a set of Keeper software extensions, including API integrations with NCA Memorials applications and databases; a moderation module to ensure VA can strictly control the quality and tone of memorial tributes posted to VLM web pages; and an administrative application to facilitate VA management of the VLM website for global updates, COTS software updates, and bulk data updates that allow VLM to rapidly incorporate Veteran datasets from 90 state and tribal cemeteries outside of NCA’s control. As a result of our Agile/DevSecOps delivery, including a continuous integration and delivery (CI/CD) pipeline and automated testing, our team can continually provide on-demand enhancements and improvements to VLM as the need arises.

Customer Praise for VLM

VLM-thumb

"The Veterans Legacy Memorial is an ideal way to tell the story … and we do it in such a format that anyone, anywhere can access that information."

Randy Reeves
Former VA Undersecretary for Memorial Affairs

Results

Driving to the official Memorial Day 2019 launch, over a 90-day period, Team GovCIO successfully brought the initial VLM capability online, established and stabilized the product in the VA Enterprise Cloud (VAEC), and guided VLM through all VA security processes to achieve an interim ATO and support the Go-Live in May 2019.

Over the past two years, GovCIO has consistently added new features and made these accessible to all VLM users, including tributes, word clouds, historical documents, life stories and mementos, and milestones. GovCIO and our team further developed, enhanced, integrated, deployed, and maintained the VA’s flagship VLM platform, including three successful Memorial Day and two successful Veterans Day deliveries, as well as multiple enhancement releases from 2019 to 2021.

In the past year alone, we’ve-

  • Re-platformed Keeper to ensure the new platform addresses both current and future VA needs, setting the stage for broader VLM usage and adoption.
  • Made VLM much more mobile-friendly website; this involved re-designing the VLM home page with a new VLM logo, updating search functionality and redesigning Memorial, Tributes, and the Historical Documents sections of Veteran profile pages for mobile device compatibility.
  • Added 114 VA grant-funded State, Tribal, and Territorial cemeteries into the existing VLM database, which resulted in a total of 495,423 state, territorial and tribal cemetery profiles being added to VLM.
  • Added in 93 non-NCA cemeteries, nearly 500,000 additional Veteran pages, despite NCA only committing to adding at least three non-NCA cemeteries in 2021.
  • Added the ability for any VLM user to: upload tributes, photographs, historical documents, service milestones, biographies, and comments for any veteran; follow a veteran profile and receive emailed updates when one is updated; and display coordinates, maps and marker images using VA’s geospatial data repository.

The overall success of VLM can be seen through our user experience scores and positive customer and industry feedback.

  • Despite the rapid increases in Veteran profiles (VLM now has more than 4.3 million veteran pages), GovCIO consistently achieves user experience ratings of 98%, ensuring no unplanned downtime.
  • During 2019, NCA recognized VLM as its second greatest achievement for 2019 and OIT leadership recognized the VLM delivery team for leading the way in the adoption and maturation of Agile/Scrum best practices within the MBS product line.
  • In 2022, the project has been awarded both a FedHealthIT Innovation Award and the Gold Quill of Excellence award from the International Association of Business Communicators.