AI-based program enhances mental health monitoring for veterans

To help monitor veterans’ mental health, especially during the pandemic, the Department of Veterans Affairs is increasingly relying on AI-based analytics.

Mental health issues have long been a challenge for military veterans, and since the beginning of the year the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has been implementing AI systems that enable healthcare providers to look for key words veterans may use when providing feedback concerning the quality of the care they are receiving.

According to a recent article at GCN.com, an outlet serving public sector IT managers, the VA has been working with Medallia, a customer experience management company, on a program called Veterans Signals that analyzes feedback “key words or a vocal tone that indicates mental health risk and routes alerts in real time to the appropriate responders.”

As described by Lee Becker, solutions principal at Medallia, “if a veteran is saying they have financial hardship or if a veteran is saying, ‘I can’t pay my rent,’ ‘I’m late on my bills’ or ‘I’m failing in my school’… it will automatically flag that issue. AI is able to bubble up issues that the VA may have not even thought of. That was very important for COVID.”

The VA has also been using AI to identify COVID hotspots, and according to Becker VA officials have ramped up both telehealth services and mental health service access.

“There are many different ways to pull the signal,” he explained, from written opportunities such as surveys sent after a VA appointment at a medical center or clinic, to email or text messages, to  to verbal feedback from telephone calls or messages.

“We don’t really care how it’s being provided to us, we just need to make this [service] available,” said Becker, who is the former chief of staff for VA’s Veterans Experience Office.

According to the article, if the AI flags something indicating that a veteran may be in danger of inflicting self-harm, someone monitoring the crisis line gets the alert and immediately reaches out.

The veterans’ data is being shared essentially to the national crisis line according to permission levels set by VA. “They have the phone number, the email, all identified seamlessly,” Becker said. 

Moreover, the system is integrated with VA’s connected data warehouse, which stores veterans’ records via hundreds of databases, and it also monitors for macro-level problems across the feedback, such as complaints about a particular service at one facility. 

“By applying this capability, VA has proven that it improves the experience, it improves trust,” Becker said. “The reason why this is successful at the VA is because they integrated experience into every single part of the organization…. This is part of the fabric of the business,” he said. “Just like we are measuring operational measures and financial measures, we are taking into consideration the customer, the citizen, the veteran and employee.”

Medallia is in talks with the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services about implementing similar systems there, Becker added.