VA’s National Cemetery Administration (NCA) and Office of Information and Technology (OIT) are partnering on a four-pronged infrastructure modernization effort – one of which is upgrading the telephony that underlies NCA’s telephone systems.
This is welcome relief for anyone who uses a phone and also knows the frustration of dealing with poor service, dropped calls, or being unable to place a call. For an organization like NCA, which supports Veterans and their families in the emotionally turbulent days immediately following the death of a loved one, having equipment malfunctions and communication issues like these simply isn’t an option.
“Helping bereaved loved ones with the burial process or anything concerning it can be very emotional,” explained Mike Emrich, NCA’s lead program specialist for technology infrastructure requirements. “So, the ability to communicate quickly and efficiently helps us take care of them and supports our responsibility to provide a suitable resting place for our heroes.”
NCA’s legacy phone systems have been around awhile and therefore lack many of the capabilities of the more modern Cisco platform VA is now implementing across the VA enterprise. The innovative upgrades to the new Cisco Unified Call Center Enterprise – which were later upgraded to the Packaged Contact Center Enterprise – and the accompanying call plans improve NCA’s ability to process increased call traffic and place outbound calls without dropping.
In addition, if a site loses phone service due to a local carrier issue, such as a cut cable or card failure, the site does not need to rely on the carrier to send out maintenance teams to resolve the issue. The local information technology support teams can simply re-route outgoing calls to another local NCA facility so staff can still place calls and continue to care for Veterans and their families while the issue is worked in the background.
Thanks to the collaboration between NCA and OIT’s Account Management Office – Memorials team, meshed with the technical astuteness from the OIT UCI telephony service provider, modernization progress has been exceptional. In 2020, the NCA and OIT team overcame multiple funding challenges to secure a full budget for the telephony modernization. Since then, the infrastructure modernization team has completed 43 NCA sites (mostly national cemeteries) which exceeds 150% of their target for the year.
The team is projected to upgrade another 17 sites in 2022 and aims to complete the modernization effort by upgrading the final 40 or more by 2023. Additionally, the cost savings are enormous: VA conserved over $236,000 quarterly, averaging a cost savings of almost $1 million for the year due to the project’s keen budgeting and the overall savings realized by modernizing the systems.
The NCA Infrastructure Modernization initiative ties closely with the VA Secretary’s Strategic Goals and Priorities, including delivering exceptional customer service to Veterans, families and caregivers; modernizing systems via digital transformation; business transformation; IT modernization; and seamless and secure data interoperability between VA and our business partners.
The modernization fully supports NCA’s Strategic Goals to ensure “Stakeholders will place greater trust in NCA based on enhanced accountability” and “Stakeholders will be served more efficiently and effectively based on NCA’s internal capacity.”
Ultimately, the modernization effort is an overall win-win to help ensure Veterans, their families and VA staff have an improved, outstanding experience across all levels of NCA service.
In addition to the telephony upgrades, the NCA Infrastructure Modernization efforts include upgrades to wireless, data network circuits, and telecommunication space remediation.
VA burial benefits can help service members, Veterans and their family members plan and pay for a burial or memorial service in a VA national cemetery. Learn more by visiting VA Burial Benefits and Memorial Items.