Management

Hagel pledges DOD assistance in reducing VA backlog

Chuck Hagel at budget hearing

Although DOD has chosen to find new health-records software, it will continue its efforts to help the Veterans Affairs Department reduce its claims backlog, promises Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. (File photo)

The Defense Department will continue ongoing efforts to help the Department of Veterans Affairs reduce the claims backlog that has long plagued the agency, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said May 22 on Capitol Hill.

"DOD and VA both work to provide continuous, accessible quality health care for America’s active duty military and its veterans," Hagel said before the Senate Appropriations Committee. "As a former VA leader, senator and veteran I have been involved in veterans' issues for many years, and have some understanding and appreciation of the complications and difficulties of this backlog issue. The Department of Defense is committed to doing everything it can to continue to work with the VA in processing claims speedily and efficiently to reduce this backlog."

Hagel outlined actions being taken by DOD, such as sending assistance – including one team of experts to work with the Veterans Benefits Administration on analyzing and processing the claims backlog, as well as another team dispatched to Seattle to help with the Integrated Disability Evaluation System. DOD also is providing the VBA with direct access to its electronic health records system to process claims more quickly, he said.

"DOD and VA are taking steps to ensure that those currently serving will not face a similar backlog in the future," including joint data-sharing summits every six weeks to find ways to improve and enhancing the format of treatment records for easier sharing, Hagel said.

Defense officials recently decided to acquire new software for managing its end of the joint integrated electronic health records program with the VA. However, he said, that might not play much of a role in easing the backlog.

"The centerpiece of DOD's work is the integrated electronic health record program, which is a priority for President Obama, [VA Secretary Eric] Shinseki and me – and I know for the Congress as well," he told lawmakers. "It does relate to some extent to the backlog, but it is not directly to the backlog...in many ways, it is about the future, so that we don't have more backlogs."

"This is a very important moment for the Appropriations Committee to join together on forcing two bureaucracies to do the right thing for our veterans," said Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). "We think, with some good backup, that with a fully electronic medical record coming from DOD to VA, that that time can be really cut down, so we can do right by our veterans right when they get out of DOD and have that seamless transition into the VA."

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

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