For years, the Department of Defense (DOD) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have been working toward coming together to create an all encompassing electronic database of medical records. Such a system would make moving from one department to the other much easier and could significantly improve the level of healthcare servicemembers receive, but the process has been long and some officials do not think it can be done.
Years in the making
Both departments have been working to transition to electronic records for a decade, but in 2008 Congress officially ordered the two departments to create a joint system so that when soldiers left active duty, it was easier for their medical records to come to the VA with them. The original plan was to have the endeavor completed by 2017 – at an estimated cost of $4 billion – but the process has certainly not been easy.
Delay after delay
Over the last several years there have been significant challenges in developing the integrated system, and earlier this month then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki announced they were doing away with the original plan of one system, and instead looking toward developing technologies that make each of their individuals records more interoperable. The idea, Panetta said, is to cut costs and finish the project more quickly
"All of these facilities will be interoperable by the end of July 2013, so [it's a] fast time track, but we think we can get it done," he told reporters.
Despite Panetta's insistence it was for the best, many members of Congress recently expressed their disappointment that the two departments were unable to come up with a system that fell under the original plan. Among them is California Rep. Jeff Denham, who said that the delay has been inexcusable and could threaten the health of veterans and servicemembers.
"In the private sector, this would be done by now – it would have to be," he said. "I don't feel the same sense of obligation here. I question the will to get it done."
Servicemembers' advocates have also made their feelings known. For instance, the National Organization of Veterans' Advocates said that continued delays could make it difficult for vets to receive disability benefits and other vital services.