VA expanding smart card pilot

The Department of Veterans Affairs plans to expand to about 50,000 the number of employees that will receive smart cards this year through a pilot program that it hopes will eventually become permanent.

The VA Express Card project, launched in January, involves employees at two pilot sites — Iron Mountain, Mich., and Milwaukee. To date, the VA has issued about 11,000 smart cards to employees at these locations and plans to issue an additional 40,000 cards at those sites by the end of the year.

The goal of the project is for veterans to have one card that will be recognized by all parts of the VA, said Daniel Maloney, director of emerging technologies at the Veterans Health Administration, speaking at this week's CardTech/SecurTech conference in Las Vegas.

The new VA cards, which replace the existing veteran identification cards, contain a computer chip that stores personal data and have a magnetic strip and bar code that enable the card to work at facilities that are not yet equipped to support smart cards.

The card provides "express registration for veterans" at medical centers and hospitals, Maloney said. "The process of registering can take 45 minutes. With information on the card, it can be moved into an automated system, drastically speeding up the process." The card also stores emergency medical information such as allergies the veteran may have.

Using kiosks — eight are being used in the pilot — veterans can review the data on their smart card, including available benefits and insurance information. Later this year, they will be able to download digital certificates and store them on the card for use in online transactions.

The VA also is testing an application that reads data from the chip on the card, places the information in the proper location on multiple electronic forms used in medical centers and prints them out.

In late fall, the VA expects to have completed its data collection on the pilot and will conduct an internal review, said Kent Simonis, director of Health Administration Services at the VA, also speaking at the conference. In calendar year 2002, he expects the department to make a decision on whether to expand or continue the pilot.

"Regardless of the pilot's future, the need for fluid and dynamic information sharing has become obvious" in VA, Simonis said.

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