VA and Defense Dept. began Paying for New Records System while still Funding Abandoned One

Thursday, August 29, 2013
VA backlog in Winston-Salem (photo: Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General)

Members of Congress have been demanding for years that the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) work together so the records of military personnel could be seamlessly shared between the two agencies, and that veterans could avoid paperwork problems that delay receiving health and disability benefits. But the Pentagon and the VA each had their own, separate computerized record-keeping systems, which led to agency leaders to decide on developing one system that the two bureaucracies could share and satisfy the mandate from lawmakers.


The attempt to create just one set of records wound up costing the government at least $1.3 billion, and after four years of trying, the two agencies gave up earlier this year on the project that turned into a technological money-pit. In fact, officials found themselves still paying for the abandoned effort while starting on Plan B, which called for the Defense Department and the VA to have separate computer systems that would (hopefully) communicate with one another via some kind of linking software.


Not surprisingly perhaps, lawmakers are not happy with the progress (or lack thereof) in creating an “integrated” and “interoperable” electronic health-records system, as mandated by the National Defense Authorization Act for 2008 (pdf).


“The only thing interoperable we get are the litany of excuses flying across both departments every year as to why it has taken so long to get this done,” Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Florida), chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, said at a joint hearing with the House Armed Services Committee.


So, now, the VA intends to spend $12 billion over five years to upgrade the agency’s IT systems, which is supposed to include interoperable software that can be used between the VA and the Pentagon.


The VA began investing in this project in July 2011—back when the agency and the Defense Department were still spending money on the joint healthcare records system.


“In fact, one of the VA’s contractors, Harris Corp., has a multiyear contract with the VA worth $80.3 million to create software allowing the two departments’ systems to communicate with each other, a deal that was signed almost a year before the [Pentagon] and VA gave up on a single electronic health record,” wrote Hannah Winston wrote of the Center for Public Integrity.


Meanwhile, Defense officials have asked Congress for $467 million to replace and modernize its current healthcare records.


The scanning of paper disability claims, which must now be electronic, is heavily backlogged at the VA, with only 30% completed. That doesn’t include veterans who have yet to file claims, nor those expected to be filed when about 26,000 service members return home during the coming year from Afghanistan.


The delay upon delay only makes it that much harder on veterans who have to wait to get the help they need because the agency they used to serve under (the Pentagon) can’t get on the same page with the agency now responsible for their care (the VA).

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Veterans Affairs, Defense Depts. Spend Billions in Effort to Coordinate Records (by Hannah Winston, Center for Public Integrity)

VA Benefits Backlog So Bad it Threatened Employee Safety (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Pentagon and VA End Billion-Dollar Electronic Health Records Project (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)

Health Dept. Distributed $3.6 Billion to Doctors and Hospitals to Computerize Records without a Single Audit (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

$167 Million VA Program Down the Drain (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


Leave a comment