Senate Passes VA Bill with $3.3 Billion in IT Funding

The Senate version includes $938.9 million for staff salaries and expenses, $1.6 billion for existing programs and $800.5 million for new programs.

Key projects include the initiative to develop a common VA-Defense Department health and benefits record, an Obama administration priority.

The Senate bill puts a hold on $1.1 billion in IT development funds until VA's Chief Information Officer Roger Baker completes a review of the department's IT systems and he and Secretary Eric Shinseki identify which projects should receive funding in fiscal 2010.

Shinseki has repeatedly vowed to use technology to transform VA into a 21st century organization. But the department still needs a lot of staffing to process mostly paper-based disability claims, according to budget allocations in the Senate bill. It includes funding to hire 1,200 new claims processors at the Veterans Benefits Administration in 2010, boosting their numbers to 14,549. That is nearly double the 7,550 processors VBA employed in 2005.

The House report on the 2010 appropriations noted that claims processing is "one of the most challenging obstacles" VA faces and suggested the department adopt easy-to-use technology modeled on electronic tax filing systems for veterans filing disability claims.

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