Politics

VA's troubled IT is a campaign trail topic

 Shutterstock image: global health.

The Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs have struggled for years to share health data with each other and with the private sector. The problem is an issue of perennial concern on Capitol Hill. Unlike many government IT issues, which are largely inward facing, problems in the systems that support veterans' care have a visible impact on the ability of the government to deliver services.

Understanding many of VA's IT issues -- which include electronic health records that aren't interoperable, an obsolete medical appointment scheduling system and a buggy intake system that doesn't flag combat veterans for the special benefits to which they are entitled -- involves getting down into the details of software delivery. But several Democratic presidential campaigns are digging into the specifics and have policy recommendations timed for Veterans Day.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised to "personally convene the secretaries of Veterans Affairs and Defense" to get them to work on an effort that "integrates their health care operations." That includes making EHR systems fully interoperable between the VA and DOD, as well as ironing out interoperability issues within the different instances of the VA's VistA system.

Former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley set a goal of promoting the "seamless transfer of health information from the Pentagon to the VA when service members are discharged" and improving the connections between the VA's system and the state-based health insurance exchanges under the Affordable Care Act. O'Malley also wants to grant the VA's inspector general new authority and resources, and improve the way whistleblower information is shared with senior executives.

Although Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is a former chairman and currently a member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, he has not released any specific policy proposals about VA technology. However, he was an architect of the bipartisan Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014, which passed just a few days after the confirmation of VA Secretary Robert McDonald. That bill established a technology task force to review the VA's scheduling system and required a top-down look at whether VistA should be retained for the long term.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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