Voices of Veterans: Introducing Personas to Better Understand Our Customers

Sep 29, 2016

Understanding our Veterans and their unique needs and experiences is at the heart of creating a more Veteran-centered VA. By listening to their voices and the stories they share, we can design services and experiences that meet the needs of Veterans.

Vietnam Veteran wearing a 101st Airborne Division hat.

Taking a step towards a deeper understanding of our Veterans, in the fall of 2014, the Veteran’s Affairs Center for Innovation (VACI) launched its second Human-Centered design research program. We traveled across the country and spoke to over one hundred Veterans from a variety of backgrounds. Through their voices, we identified seven distinct personas to represent the range of Veterans’ attitudes, wants, and needs with respect to the VA. These personas, and the experiences and needs they represent are being used to transform the VA into a more Veteran-centered, and responsive, service provider. Cynthia and Randy are two of the personas — all of which are based off of interviews with Veterans — we identified, the rest of which can be found in our report.

A woman sorts through documents.

Though Cynthia and Randy are both Veterans, their experiences both in service and after separating are different. They both have different needs and expectations of the VA. Cynthia is a recent business school graduate who founded a company with one of her friends, while Randy is a recovering alcoholic who is trying to get his life back on track, and find stable work. Too often the VA has viewed Cynthia and Randy through the same lens and provided the same services, but in order to become a more Veteran-centered VA, we must recognize their unique experiences and tailor our services to meet them. Cynthia is double-timing to success; she’s moving onward and upwards. She wants a VA that is convenient and easy, a platform to jump-start her career and available whenever she needs it. Randy needs a support system and guidance through his recovery process. He needs a VA that will help him create a stable routine and support him without judgement. Being Veteran-Centered means listening and responding to the needs of our Veterans; Cynthia and Randy are both Veterans, but they have different needs. The better we are at understanding the different needs of our different Veterans, the better we will be at designing and providing the right services.

“VA implies being stuck and needing help. That’s not how I see myself,” — Cynthia

Photo of a woman for the Cynthia persona.

A Fast Tracker, Cynthia needs a VA that is able to adapt to her lifestyle. Cynthia, and other Fast Trackers, are guiding us to develop access to digital services and touchpoints to enable quick, effective interactions that make her communication with the VA fast and easy. Although Cynthia may view VA services solely as a fallback, we can ensure that through improved communication, she understands how the VA can support her if times get tough or her health declines.

“VA is like a family. A dysfunctional family,” — Randy

Photo of a man for the Randy persona.

Randy, a Day-By-Day, is dependent on the VA despite having mixed feelings towards the organization. To help Randy, the VA can continue to integrate with other social service providers, such as Medicare and Social Security, to broaden his support network. From a preventative standpoint, VA can track potential high-risk individuals early in their military career and closely monitor them as they transition out in hopes that with additional support, Veterans like Randy can have a more positive experience upon leaving the military.

A pile of Post-It notes.

Our other personas include Proud Patriots like Victor; loyal to the VA, he views visits as a social outing where he can interact with friends. Eduardo, a Veteran Supporter, who is not a Veteran himself but needs help navigating VA services as he struggles to care for his son who experienced a traumatic brain injury in combat. Cynthia, Randy, Victor, and Eduardo represent real Veterans’ attitudes, wants, and needs. By using them as our guides and advisers, we can determine if we are creating programs and initiatives that will have a positive impact on a Veteran’s life. Through our personas, we can better understand how to tailor our services to the needs of our Veterans and are one step closer to creating a more Veteran-centered VA.

Since producing our Voices of Veterans report, the personas we helped to developed are in use across the VA, as VA employees and VA sites work to better understand and design for the needs of the Veterans who seek care and services.

Read the full report here (PDF, 7.6 MB, 34 pages) to learn more about our methodology, what we learned and the stories of our other personas.

This post was originally published on Medium by the VA Center for Innovation.