Budget numbers support 'one VA'

President Bush wants a 15 percent increase in the information technology budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs to keep the medical systems humming at VA hospitals across the country.

The fiscal 2003 budget request includes money to handle a growing backlog of claims and working toward "one VA," a promise made by VA Secretary Anthony Principi.

Among the VA's big-ticket requests are:

* $460 million to operate the medical care systems at 150 locations, a $15 million increase from fiscal 2002.

* $151 million for telecommunications, up from $147 million in fiscal 2002.

* $27 million for a health data repository, more than double the 2002 appropriation.

"We're going to be doing some things in '02 and '03 to stay within our budget," said John Gauss, the chief information officer at VA. "But [in] building an integrated VA, you don't always need money to make improvements if you spend it smarter."

Nevertheless, the budget document said the VA needed to move ahead in "creating specialized processing centers and developing a computer system that allows people throughout the country to work on individual claims at the same time."

Gauss said the VA is setting up better-automated systems to handle compensation and pension processing. The budget also calls for $5.3 million for the Veterans Benefits Administration to develop electronic folders with benefits information for veterans.

In addition, the budget includes more money for IT security — $29 million, up from $22 million in 2002. Gauss said the IT security funding will continue to go up in the next few years.

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