Congress funds VA-DOD project despite late request

The omnibus spending bill approved by Congress this week included full funding for a joint Veterans Affairs and Defense department project to develop a single, integrated digital medical record system for soldiers and veterans.

Congressional lawmakers approved $100 million to fund Veterans Affairs and Defense efforts to jointly develop a digital medical record system—even though the departments missed a deadline for requesting the funding.

The spending allocation was part of the fiscal 2012 omnibus budget bill passed by Congress on Dec. 17 as part of the $3.11 billion for the VA’s Office of Information and Technology. The office’s total spending allotment was $118 million above the fiscal 2011 enacted level, according to a Dec. 16 statement from the Senate Appropriations Committee.

In May 2011, the secretaries of the VA and DOD signed an agreement to deploy an Integrated Electronic Health Record rather than separately modernize their respective digital medical record systems.

While it was too late to request funding for the joint project in the VA’s official budget request to Congress, a separate request for the joint system was submitted at a later date, according to a report from the conference committee of House and Senate members negotiating the final omnibus spending package.

Despite the late timing, the House and Senate members declared strong support for the VA-DOD agreement and agreed to fund the entire $100 million requested for fiscal 2012, which included $73 million for development, the report said.

“The conferees are encouraged by this agreement and believe that successful development and implementation is crucial for both departments,” states the conference report for the omnibus bill. “The conference agreement fully funds this request.”

In total, Congress approved $580 million for the VA's IT development projects, which includes the $73 million for the joint VA-DOD medical record system.

Other VA IT development projects funded in fiscal 2012 included $107 million for the Veterans Benefits Management System; $70 million for Veterans Relationship Management; $50 million for the Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record; and $48 million for health care access programs, such as telehealth, surgical quality and workflow management; and emergency department and systems.

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