VA catches "embarrassing" Y2K blip

The Department of Veterans Affairs has weathered slight Year 2000 problems in the final hours before the rollover into the new year.

Harold Gracey, chief information officer for the VA, said programmers earlier this week caught a software problem that would have dated Veterans Health Administration invoices as 1900 instead of 2000. The problem would not have caused trouble for the department but "would have just been embarrassing," Gracey said.

VA officials also found Year 2000 problems in medical devices at two VA hospitals. A device for taking tissue samples suffered from Year 2000 problems in Shreveport, La., and an X-ray machine in Tulsa, Okla., also experienced Year 2000-related trouble, according to Gracey.

Meanwhile, a telephone network exchange in the VA's Milwaukee hospital failed—but not because of the Year 2000 problem, said Gracey, who described the system as old. Hospital workers communicated by radios and cell phones while waiting for the system to be replaced, Gracey said, adding that replacement came quickly.

"Certainly, it got faster attention and resolution than it would have otherwise," he said. "I think really what we're finding is that all the preparation [for Year 2000] has helped."

The VA serves a potential 25 million veterans plus 44 million of their family members. The department includes 172 medical centers, 551 clinics, 131 nursing homes and 40 domiciliaries around the nation. Gracey said the VA has spent close to $230 million on Year 2000 fixes over the past three or four years.

Gracey was overseeing the VA's rollover from the department's information coordination center in Martinsburg, W.Va. Nationwide, the VA has about 1,000 people watching for Year 2000 problems, Gracey said. Shifts of 20 people would work around the clock in Martinsburg, missing out on New Year's celebrations.

Gracey said celebrating would come later. "We're thinking of having a really good St. Patrick's Day party," he said.

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