Single Web site key for vets' combined medical, benefits record

VA officials said its proposed $3.3 billion budget for information technology in fiscal 2010, which it released on May 7, would support the shared record as well as other projects, including the development of a paperless benefits processing system scheduled for completion in 2012.

Roger Baker, President Obama's nominee for chief information officer at VA, said at his confirmation hearing on May 6 that development of a single Web site to provide benefits and health information to military personnel and veterans would be a key element of the virtual lifetime electronic record.

As service members transition from active duty to veteran status they should be able to access the same Web site, using the same username and password, to check on their medical record and health and disabilities benefits, Baker told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Vets now must use separate systems to access that information. As far as veterans are concerned, they are dealing with the same government as they did when on active duty and they should be able to use the same system, he said.

Adm. Gregory Timberlake, director of the Defense/VA Interagency Program Office, told an audience at a Government Executive panel discussion in March that the two departments should complete full interoperability of their electronic health record systems by September.

Baker told the Senate hearing that Defense and VA can work together to do a lot more to improve information sharing besides health records. The goal should be to "maximize benefits and reduce wait times," he said.

VA must overcome numerous issues when developing IT systems, Baker told the hearing. "The road ahead is unlikely to be incident free," he said. "There is no easy path, no simple answer and no short cut solution to creating a strong IT capability at VA."

But Baker said an "honest" approach at the outset will save VA from backing projects that fail to deliver after years of development, such as its $167 million electronic application to schedule patients' appointments, which VA Secretary Eric Shinseki put on hold in March pending a review.

Asked by committee chairman Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, for his initial thoughts on the failure of the patient scheduling application, Baker replied that VA needs a "common sense management discipline," in which failure can be acknowledged and accepted well before the eight years expended on a system such as the patient scheduling application.

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