Baker: VA making progress on lifetime electronic record system

VA now using DOD identifier for joint lifetime record system

The Veterans Affairs and Defense departments have taken a major step forward in developing a joint lifetime record system by the VA’s recent adoption of DOD’s personal identifier system for each service member, VA Chief Information Officer Roger Baker said today.

Meanwhile, the VA expects to make a decision by year’s end about modernizing its Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA) record system and will issue several requests for information from industry before that decision, Baker said in a conference call with reporters.

Baker offered a progress report on the development of the joint VA/DOD Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record (VLER), which is intended to be a seamless unique record for each service member from recruitment through retirement, and on the VistA electronic record system modernization.

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To move along the VLER project, a month and a half ago, the VA began using DOD's Electronic Data Interchange Personal Identifier (EDIPI) for all its health and benefits records for veterans, Baker said.

“We will have a single, individual identifier for beneficiaries,” Baker said. “This is fundamental for the VLER.”

The EDIPI is a personal identifier code used internally by the DOD. The department assigns a nine-digit unique identifier to each new service member. The DOD identity cards display a 10-digit identity code, which consists of the EDIPI and an additional digit.

Previously, after service members retired from the military, the VA assigned additional number codes to identify them as they received benefits.

Under the VLER, the VA will track each record with the EDIPI, in addition to continuing to use some of the other identifiers, Baker said.

“Previously, we [VA] gave veterans multiple numbers to track them,” Baker said. Now, the VA will use the EDIPI in addition to the other numbers. The EDIPI “won’t be the only number, but it will be included in every record,” for health services and other benefits, he said.

The VA currently is carrying out a pilot project in Hampton Roads, Virginia, to coordinate medical record information sharing between the VA, DOD and MedVirginia, a private provider organization. They are using the Health and Human Services Department’s Nationwide Health Information Network protocols to securely exchange protected medical information.

Regarding VistA, Baker said the department expects to make a decision on a modernization strategy by year’s end. Several requests for information will be published to solicit additional input from experts, he said.

“We have a lot of experts to hear from,” Baker said. “At the same time, it is important that we not unduly delay. In the next four to five months, we will hear from a variety of folks.”

In 2009, Baker authorized the Industry Advisory Council to advise the VA on the modernization. Ed Meagher, chair of the IAC VistA Modernization Working Group, delivered a recommendation in May that the VA proceed with an open-source development program to replace VistA.

Asked about that recommendation, Baker said it was “good advice. It is being incorporated into our thought processes.” He further said it was important that the group’s recommendation was made public to “stimulate the discussion” about VistA’s future.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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