VA's Gould puts systems into service for vets

The IT experts at the Veterans Affairs Department have been working hard to ensure that veterans have fast, reliable access to health care services. Their recent innovations include the Blue Button system, which enables veterans to download their personal health records; Fast Track, which is reducing the backlog of claims related to Agent Orange exposure for Vietnam era veterans; and a VA/Defense Department initiative for creating a shared electronic health record for service members from active duty through veteran status. Although many people worked on those and other projects, Deputy Secretary W. Scott Gould, who functions as VA’s chief operating officer, is credited with providing the vision and leadership that made their success possible.

The three strategic goals we have at VA really break down to: [first] increasing access for veterans to health care and benefits; second, making sure we're eliminating the claims backlog; and finally, eliminating veterans' homelessness by 2015. Big, bold, hard-to-do goals that are specific, time-phased and measurable. Technology is one of the enablers that we have to address those goals.

To date, we have had 750,000 downloads of Blue Button [records], and we have private-sector partners that are taking this on in a big way. We think we're going to be able to have almost 50 million with access to Blue Button inside another year or two. That to us is a great example of how innovation in government can benefit everyone.We employed a soft launch that allowed us to get real experience from potential users early in the process. Design it, build it, implement it, then go public about it — that was the theory and approach we used. Very rapidly, the rates of adoption in government and the private sector began to exceed our expectations.

We wanted to liberate the data, put it in the hands of the patients, let them control it. Once we had that formula in place, we were in a situation where we were increasingly confident that adoption would occur, and that's exactly what's happening.

[For Fast Track], we realized that we were going to face a tidal wave of claims that we needed to clear through the system. This would have been challenging without there already being a situation where we had a large backlog of claims for other things.

We decided we would create [VA's] first automated claims-processing system. The big insurance companies that work in health care have long had automated systems to assist them in that process. We in VA never invested in those systems, unfortunately. We chose a manual course; we kept going on that.

One of the jobs of a chief operating officer is to synchronize all the elements that are required to be able to accomplish the mission. You can see that in this example. We had 20,000 people in our benefits administration [division]. We had the chief technology officer and his team. We had the chief information officer, Roger Baker, and lastly we had the acquisition team having to work through the Federal Acquisition Regulation process to deliver the benefit. My role was to make sure all four of those individuals understood that our success as a team was based on each others' capacity to do their work.

We're on a journey. Our goal is to move as quickly as we can to deliver results for veterans. My only standard of progress is: Did I create more access for veterans to their health care and benefits? Did I eliminate the backlog? And am I ending homelessness? In each of those three areas, we are clearly making measurable progress.

Read more about the 2012 Federal 100 award winners.

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

The 2015 Federal 100

Meet 100 women and men who are doing great things in federal IT.

Featured

  • Shutterstock image (by venimo): e-learning concept image, digital content and online webinar icons.

    Can MOOCs make the grade for federal training?

    Massive open online courses can offer specialized IT instruction on a flexible schedule and on the cheap. That may not always mesh with government's preference for structure and certification, however.

  • Shutterstock image (by edel): graduation cap and diploma.

    Cybersecurity: 6 schools with the right stuff

    The federal government craves more cybersecurity professionals. These six schools are helping meet that demand.

  • Rick Holgate

    Holgate to depart ATF

    Former ACT president will take a job with Gartner, follow his spouse to Vienna, Austria.

  • Are VA techies slacking off on Yammer?

    A new IG report cites security and productivity concerns associated with employees' use of the popular online collaboration tool.

  • Shutterstock image: digital fingerprint, cyber crime.

    Exclusive: The OPM breach details you haven't seen

    An official timeline of the Office of Personnel Management breach obtained by FCW pinpoints the hackers’ calibrated extraction of data, and the government's step-by-step response.

  • Stephen Warren

    Deputy CIO Warren exits VA

    The onetime acting CIO at Veterans Affairs will be taking over CIO duties at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

  • Shutterstock image: monitoring factors of healthcare.

    DOD awards massive health records contract

    Leidos, Accenture and Cerner pull off an unexpected win of the multi-billion-dollar Defense Healthcare Management System Modernization contract, beating out the presumptive health-records leader.

  • Sweating the OPM data breach -- Illustration by Dragutin Cvijanovic

    Sweating the stolen data

    Millions of background-check records were compromised, OPM now says. Here's the jaw-dropping range of personal data that was exposed.

  • FCW magazine

    Let's talk about Alliant 2

    The General Services Administration is going to great lengths to gather feedback on its IT services GWAC. Will it make for a better acquisition vehicle?

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above