VA improves access to medical records

The Department of Veterans Affairs is launching a program designed to give service members discharged in South Korea and Germany immediate and reliable access to their medical records.

Veterans often wait years to file a disability claim and are unable to provide the data to back up their claims. But now, the VA is putting a system in place that will keep the latest medical records and data available in a central location at the VA's computer center in Hines, Ill.

Service members being discharged from the military in South Korea and Germany will receive an exit physical. "We reach out to people four or five months in advance, get them examined and get them in the system," said Tom Pamperin, the VA's assistant director of compensation and pensions.

The data will be stored at the Illinois facility, serving as a baseline for any future service-related medical claims.

"Even if the veteran comes back 20 years from now, we will have all the information in place," said Bruce Grimes, the public liaison for the Veterans Benefits Administration.

The VA has been repeatedly criticized for moving too slowly when processing initial disability claims. It receives 120,000 original compensation claims each year, including 80,000 from people separating from the military each year. But with a backlog and unsophisticated computer systems, it takes at least seven months to process a claim and sometimes much longer if supporting data is not available.

The system was launched last month in South Korea, where 36,000 troops are stationed, and will be inaugurated this fall in Germany.

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