VA Center for Innovation



Industry Innovations

The Industry Innovation Competitions are designed to give VA the opportunity to get the best thinking from the private sector to solve the Department's most pressing challenges. We're interested in solutions from all types of organizations—from established leaders in industry to new start-ups, non-profits, and academic institutions.

Subject matter experts from VA, other government agencies, and applicable industries review the proposals. Selected innovators work with VACI to design a pilot implementation based on their proposals. After the pilot is completed, each project is evaluated. The most successful will go on to broader deployment and eventually national rollout.

VACI has held three Industry Innovation Competitions, resulting in nearly 800 ideas submitted across 15 topic areas.

Employee Innovations

VA has the largest civilian workforce in the Federal Government, employing talented staff all across the country. With years of experience in the field providing care and services to Veterans, these employees represent a tremendous resource for finding new solutions and new approaches.

Employee Innovation Competitions give VA a mechanism to tap the ingenuity and innovative spirit of the workforce while providing innovators with funding and support to make their ideas a reality. Successful innovations are transitioned into regular practice for wider deployment.

Prize Challenges

The America Competes Act gives VA authority to run contests to drive innovation that advances our agency's mission of helping Veterans. The law gives VA the ability to design a contest to meet varying—and sometimes unusual—needs. In a contest, we define:

  • The problem we're trying to solve and how it has the potential to help Veterans
  • The outlines of the innovative solution we're trying to achieve, so entrants know what we're looking for
  • Eligibility to participate in the contest, which by law is limited to US citizens and domestic corporations
  • The prize amount
  • Any other rules that make the contest work

VACI has held three prize challenges so far:

Blue Button for All Americans

A single click on the online Blue Button allows patients to view, download, and save their health data and share it with others as they choose. When VA became the first health plan to offer the Blue Button, Veterans had access to data about care they received from the Veterans Health system. It's a simple concept, simply implemented, but a powerful way to empower patients to engage in their own health care.

Many Veterans choose to get some or all of their care from community providers, and the VA Center for Innovation (VACI) saw these Veterans as deserving of a Blue Button, too. So in July, 2011, VACI challenged industry to put the Blue Button on the websites of at least 25,000 doctors all across America. We offered a prize of $50,000.

Three months later, McKesson Corp's RelayHealth division stepped forward. RelayHealth added the Blue Button to its existing physician- and hospital-management software. When it did, Blue Button became available to the patients—including Veterans and their families—of more than 200,000 doctors and 2,000 hospitals.

RelayHealth donated its prize to the Wounded Warrior Project. But the story doesn't end there.

In essence, the VACI contest firmly established Blue Button as a credible driver of patient empowerment. Soon after launching, RelayHealth's Blue Button appeared on the websites of about a third of all the practicing physicians and acute care hospitals in the country. As it spread rapidly, the perception of Blue Button changed from something new and novel to an empowering technology deserving of adoption.

Within months, other companies began to offer Blue Button applications, and other health plans—including Blue Cross and United Health Care—added Blue Button to their member portals. By the summer of 2012, Blue Button was available to more than 100 million Americans, including Veterans and their families.

Project Reach

In March 2012, VACI launched Project REACH with Jon Bon Jovi and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to put information about local homelessness resources into the hands of people who can help others in need.

On June 5, VA, HUD, and Jon Bon Jovi announced the five finalists from the competition. Winners of a $10,000 prize, the finalists created mobile phone apps that allow anybody to locate services such as health clinics, food kitchens, or shelters within a test locality. For Project REACH, that test area is local to JBJ Soul Kitchen, a community restaurant in Monmouth County, New Jersey, where diners can cover the cost of their meals either through donation or volunteering. The finalists now compete during the beta test phase for a $25,000 grand prize to be awarded in November 2012 to the best app according to scalability, sustainability, completeness, and user experience.

Badges for Vets

Veterans leave military service having received some of the finest training in the world, and employers want to hire well-trained employees. However, civilian agencies and private sector companies often have difficulty understanding how the skills and experience Veterans gain in the military translate to their organizations. New digital tools can help identify, recognize, measure and account for skills, competencies, knowledge and achievements acquired during military service to help employers better understand Veterans’ experience. VACI leveraged a challenge by the MacArthur and Mozilla Foundations and sponsored our “Badges for Vets” contest in the winter of 2011-12. We worked with our colleagues at the Departments of Education, Transportation, and Labor to identify industries that need trained workers. Then we identified the military training that matched. We also found private sector organizations with strong experience in translating military education into civilian equivalent college courses.

Three major players in distinct markets entered and won the contest. Since February 2012, Western Governor’s University has awarded academic credit to more than 100 Veterans based on their military training. The Manufacturing Institute (an affiliate of the National Association of Manufacturers), links military training-based credentials with specific and available civilian jobs. And TopCoder, an international software systems company, is building a “badge” system that enables Veterans with relevant military training to qualify for more sophisticated, higher-paying software development assignments.

Special Projects

VACI operates a number of structured programs, but opportunities for innovation and change often arise asynchronously. When an unanticipated challenge surfaces or a departmental priority emerges, it frequently requires not only a fresh approach, but also immediate focus and rapid execution.

By defining and leading Special Projects to address high velocity, high priority challenges, VACI provides the leadership and focus to evaluate requirements rapidly, set a targeted course of action for both technology solutions and acquisition strategies, and manage a project for accelerated execution.

The Agent Orange Fast Track System sought to address priority claims that stemmed from of the addition of three diseases to the list of conditions that would be presumptively associated with Agent Orange exposure. To anticipate an estimated additional 200,000 claims, we sought new technologies and processes to expedite and automate the influx of Agent Orange claims. All of these claims have been since been processed.

Open Source Electronic Health Record (OSEHRA) will provide a transparent mechanism to incorporate new features and capabilities into VistA—VA's electronic information system that is used at all VA medical centers, clinics, and patient facilities. It will help VA roll out innovations and upgrades throughout the health care system, creating a more efficient, organized collection of data to help care teams better serve Veterans.

Digital Tutor Prototype and Pilot leverages an emerging technology to position Veterans for rapid up-skilling in the high growth field of Information Technology. Used by the Navy to train sailors as IT specialists, the Digital Tutor has demonstrated outstanding improvement in educational outcomes over other forms of instruction. Working with Acuitus, the company that developed the Digital Tutor technology, VACI is supporting a pilot to demonstrate that this program can transition to the civilian sector to benefit unemployed and underemployed Veterans.

VA-TechShop Partnership provides two thousand memberships in select TechShop locations. These one-year memberships also include $350 in additional classes for a total value of approximately $1,500. They will be provided during 2013-2014 to Veterans as a test pilot to learn about what services will be most useful to Veterans seeking new skills for better employment or rapid prototyping tools to fuel entrepreneurship. TechShop is a Silicon Valley start-up that runs an expanding chain of membership-based facilities for designing, prototyping, and manufacturing a wide array of items. TechShop's fabrication laboratories are designed for inventors, innovators, and 'makers', working alone and with others. A typical TechShop is 20,000 square feet of space (the size of a medium supermarket) chock full of a wide array of equipment, including metal working, cutting, shaping, welding, electronics, fabrics and textiles, woodworking and 3D printers, along with CAD/CAM (computer assisted design/computer assisted manufacturing) and CNC (computer numerical controlled) capabilities.

Initially, these memberships will be available for use at TechShop's Detroit, Michigan, and San Jose, California, locations. More locations will be added, so please check back if you are not located in these two areas.

To be considered for a Veteran TechShop membership, you may apply here.