How VA is embracing innovation hubs to co-create solutions with Veterans


Did you know that up to 20% of Veterans from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom are living with PTSD in a given year? These invisible wounds of war are very complex and we need to meet the Veterans where they are in order to connect them to the care they need. VA is partnering with the private sector, non-profits and those who have served to propel brain health solutions for Veterans.

Last month, Veterans, caregivers, clinicians, data scientists, design thinkers and engineers gathered over the course of a weekend for the #VABrainTrust Hackathon. Here, diverse teams worked together to create brain health innovations for Veterans experiencing mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). MyVA Strategic Partnerships, VA Center for Innovation (VACI) and Booz Allen Hamilton hosted the hackathon at two of Booz Allen’s Innovation Hub locations—Galvanize in San Francisco and Capital Factory in Austin.

#VABrainTrust HackathonThe Austin event was kicked off by Jarah Meador, lead of innovation sourcing at the VA Center for Innovation; Capital Factory mentor and health tech leader Wendy Smith; Dr. Rebecca Tapia and Dr. Robert Beck from the VA’s Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center; and Mike Rials and KeeShaun Coffey from the University of Texas Dallas’ High Performance Brain Training Team for Warriors. The San Francisco event was kicked off with opening remarks from Mark Gorenflo, director of operations for Defense Innovation Unit Experimental; Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist; James Reid, medical implementation lead at Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects and 25-year Army Veteran; and Andrea Ippolito, Innovators Network lead at the VA Center for Innovation.

At Capital Factory and Galvanize, 20 projects were created over the course of the weekend. Booz Allen’s data curation platform, Sailfish, provided participants with datasets categorized by the hackathon themes. Project ideas included: using Twitter bots for suicide prevention and intervention, creating online communities for Servicemembers to find jobs and re-integrate into society, developing platforms for clinicians to provide qualified Veteran medical referrals, and using wearable devices to monitor and improve sleep patterns and attentiveness.

Judges, mentors and data sets for the event included representatives from VACI, 18F, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Google, Map Box, PARC, Silicon Valley Bank, The University of Texas at Dallas Center for Brain Health, UC Berkeley School of Information, Vets in Tech, Bayes Impact, Bunker Labs, VA’s Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center and Booz Allen Hamilton.

#VABrainTrust hackathon winning teams—Home, Gray Matter, Awesome Sauce, Air, WhereWeAre, and HER20—will showcase their innovations at the 2016 Brain Trust Innovation Showcase in Washington, D.C., where leaders from industry and VA, including Secretary Bob McDonald and Under Secretary for Health Dr. David Shulkin will attend.

About the author: Brian MacCarthy is a senior associate at Booz Allen Hamilton, a leading management and technology consulting firm. At Booz Allen, MacCarthy leads diverse teams to create solutions that combine leading-edge technology and healthcare to help clients, like the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Health and Human Services. Brian also leads Booz Allen’s San Francisco Innovation Hub. Booz Allen is invested in serving Veterans, with Veterans making up one-third of their employee population.  Connect with Brian on LinkedIn.


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  1. Patrick jahnke    

    U knowva still head up thier a$$es blood sugar 450 er doc call me @6pm told call doc Mon no one in doctor office , no one got the info I needed call them, I told. Them as soon u get ur heads out of thier butt call me, no call yet but made a 3 months appointment, doctor what me go my narcotics drug , I as info sheet, I got it Monday when blood check i@r, doc just told little thing, sheet has many thing I don’t deal with more headaches, breathing, depression, can’t sleep, and death, list goes on. Duloxetine is meds, 2 months before it may effect me after I take 6-8 pills per day, it took 1 pill resparked burn nerve damage, what me take 6-8 pills with side effects that makes me a zombie home 24/7 can’t do nothing, at least narcotics drug I can enough life do thing get out of dodge I take 1-2 pills to help the burn nerve pain, it’s 8 yrs dealing with it, I do know the new laws of narcotics drugs but va, big brother still refuses give it out after I try many thing fight it,nothing work,yet, one more thing va but they refused try it, light treatment, special light, I will not hear nothing until Thursday or Friday when she in,part time doctor I think, so get were s#!t together I’m still waiting 2 yrs, I even ask TBI clinic doc said no head injury 1977,

  2. Craig Northacker    

    I have tried in vain to work with 810 Vermont Avenue at their request for many years. I spent enormous amounts of time and money, and time away from my family, to develop programs that were embraced by Secretary Shinseki. Instead, I was ignored, pushed aside, patted on the head, and in general watched the VA spend inordinate amounts of money foolishly. I am seriously disabled from actions during my military service, and the VBA is a whole different story.

    The IRS asked me to develop a program integrating the VITA program with the VA at a White House conference. We signed an MOU with the IRS, and when I tried to get the Secretary’s office – Mary Carstensen blew us off for several months, then said that they had already posted the information in a blog, that no one reads. Despite the fact that it was signed off on by the head of the largest IRS group – in conjunction with the program being backed by the White House. She refused to acknowledge that being able to help veterans reduce their financial stress is a major component in emotional wellness – reducing medication, lost time and sickness. So, this whole program, that we had proved the merits by running it locally for two years, was summarily dismissed by someone who did not take the time to give it any more than a cursory look. Forget my personal expenses just on this program alone of flying to Atlanta and DC, paying for hotels, and two tax seasons of working with local veterans – probably ten thousand dollars at the direct request of the two federal Agencies that I do not get reimbursed for – the leadership has been absolutely miserable in their treatment of our programs and significant experience in the rest of the world – including over 30 years as a practicing CPA.

    So – if you are serious about helping people instead of just checking off boxes saying you did outreach today, give me a call. If not, we know that this is nothing but the same old tired hyperbole that we have heard for decades, while untold human suffering, including our families, goes on because of the skewed rules of engagement the VA has promulgated to our detriment. And undermines the hard and good work of so many other dedicated VA employees who also find their hands tied..

  3. Douglass Adamson    

    Please contact me or call on a Saturday / leave TEXT if not answered. Douglass Adamson, AB Yale, JD, Ed, MDiv Harv [ETS]. Am working on an APPEAL and my CHEM WARFARE TOXINS exposure W/O KNOWLEDGE OR CONSENT of others also in our Company in Basic Training “came into mind” only several years after I began. Am seeking to work cooperatively with VA in its proclaimed TEAM Spirit. Thank you! DA

  4. Gino colonacosta    

    The vietnam veteran has been living with ptsd and agent orange longer thani all these operations took place. They have been forgotten. I have a hospital bill that was not paid thru va error l get calls from collection agencies because of this bill. I am 100 percent service connected. They va is dragging thru the appeal process it’s been 2 1/2 years l live on a fix income l have three minor children who depend on that small income and have to send these collection agencies $145.00 monthly if not they take me to court. Not to say that todays veteran does not deserve the same care, but what about paying attention to those who were there first and have suffered more than just a broken leg or a minor injury.

  5. Terry D Chance    

    The Birmingham va approved me to have 8 weeks of proton therapy at the university of Florida proton therapy institute in Jacksonville Florida. After 8 weeks , I was cancer free , with no side effects. The doctors, nurses and technicians were the nicest , caring and helpful that I have ever been around. I highly recommend them.

  6. Donald P Cheverie    

    VA needs to consider creating of & Streamlining support hubs for service connected health claims.

    Appears Veterans are mostly forced to develop full-on connected medical problems before the VA Boards for Claim review will even apply their concerns in respect to their current related known health issues.
    “Hurry up & wait”… I read it all the time, about Veterans getting awards for claims after they are so sick with medical issues that some don’t even know their conditions were Service related.
    Yes – Vietnam Vets are forgotten more and more, we’re getting older, retired, wanting to now use the VA benefits all Veterans
    should easily get, but when we file health claims… the Process will ask us eight times to prove that we served in Vietnam, though the info is already on file for many years.
    Also, when we’re ask to submit documents to VA Intake Offices, our medical & military documents that we work hard to submit get lost. And our health issues need to be reviewed for possible relationship to AO or Open Burn-pits or others even if that Veteran is not dying from his or her conditions currently.

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