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VA, DoD Leaders Questioned About Handling Influx of New Veterans in System
- Categorized in: Department of Defense (DoD), Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), News, September 2012
“How can you do this, if roughly almost 700,000 new servicemembers are coming in? ... How are you going to cut the backlog in half and increase the accuracy by almost 30% to 40%?” asked Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL).
A key element of the VA’s strategy is the new Veterans Benefit Management System that will automate the previously paperbound claims process, Shinseki said. According to the VA, the new system has cut the average time to process claims to 119 days in pilot programs. The system already is deployed to four regional office locations, and 12 more offices are slated tol use the system in FY 2012. By 2013, the system will be in all 56 VA regional offices.
“We get paper from DoD, and we are a paperbound process. So, in order to go paperless in VA, it will take coordination with both departments. We are piloting that automation tool today,” Shinseki said.
“Congressman, what you pointed out is a hell of a challenge,” Panetta added. “We are not kidding anybody. What you pointed out is exactly the concern, because we are going to be adding more and more to that list. I think the key for us, if we can develop the systems to deal with what we are dealing with now and make that work; it will be much easier as individuals come on board. If we don’t deal with it and make it more efficient now, then it will become even a worse problem in the future.”
Shinseki acknowledged to lawmakers that VA, “created the backlog in large measure” through decisions it has made to expand benefits to veterans..
“We made an Agent Orange decision that added a quarter of a million claims to the existing inventory,” he said. “We made a decision on combat-related PTSD that added half a million claims to the inventory. Some would say, ‘Why would you do that?’ But it was the right decision to do for veterans who have waited for many, many years."
Integrated Electronic Health Record
Members of Congress also expressed frustration about the length of time it is taking the agencies to build an integrated electronic health record. The target date for the iEHR to replace the DoD’s and VA’s separate electronic health record systems is 2017.
Earlier this year, it was announced that, in 2014, initial capabilities of iEHR will be rolled out at San Antonio, TX and Hampton Roads, VA, in two test sites.
Progress still is not fast enough, the lawmakers said.
“Another five years is unacceptable,” said Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH). “It’s unacceptable to me. And, gentlemen, it should be unacceptable to you.”
Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) also said he could not understand why it was taking so long.
“In 1961, John F. Kennedy said we’d put a man on the moon,” he said. “Eight years later, America was there. … We are not starting from ground zero with an electronic health record. Why is it taking so long?”
Panetta and Shinseki agreed that the need for a joint record is critical.
“We are working on a major initiative to do that,” Panetta said. “For too long, efforts to achieve a real seamless transition between our healthcare systems have been hamstrung by separate legacy health-record systems.”