The VA improves the backlog, now under scrutiny for budget quagmire

So, back in the day (towards the beginning of 2013) the VA was catching a bunch of flack for a backlog in veterans claims (a backlog they were already scrambling to correct), and now this: NBC: Billions wasted on fruitless bid to create paperless vet health records

(For a detailed look at the history of the disability claims backlog, read this article by Brandon Friedman, or this one by Kayla Williams- Both are veterans of the Iraq War and each provides a nuanced and objective overview without all the political posturing (feigned outrage) found in many other stories.)

But we’re not talking about the backlog anymore. (And neither is the news since things are actually getting better.) Now there’s a new scandal at the VA: They’re wasting our money.

I read the NBC article a few days ago. The numbers they quoted were troubling, and while I have a cursory understanding of data migration and integration between systems, I know it’s not easy- AND when we’re talking about organizations as large as THE MILITARY and THE VA, we’re not talking about small amounts of data.

The overview is this:

In 2008, the VA and DOD were tasked to create a single electronic health records management system as required by the National Defense Authorization Act for 2008.

It didn’t work.

But before they both admitted it wasn’t going to work, the VA had already started working on a different plan (as early as July 2011). So, they (we) were still paying for PLAN A (officially abandoned in February 2013) while the VA was also working on PLAN B. The cost to tax payers was over 1.3 billion dollars.

I wanted to get more information, so in keeping with my excellent research methods I asked my Facebook friends (I have very smart Facebook friends).

One of them works at the VA and very succinctly said this:

Essentially DOD doesn’t want to play. They use an arbitrary old outdated system and they don’t want to switch over to something lighter and more functional that would be able to communicate with VA seamlessly. They say it would be too expensive. VA’s point is why would we switch to your system that doesn’t work, isn’t interoperable with anyone and doesn’t have the info in it we need to use?

Th[is] article essentially says VA wants DOD to use the free system that the government already owns and is already in use for over a million patients but DOD wants to spend money on things with bells, whistles and fancy buttons.

I think VA’s point has been “Hey, look our system isn’t perfect but it is a start. Let’s get on the same system so that down the road we both know what we will need for the new system and can get one that works for both of us.”

And he’s right. The DOD submitted a Request for Information in February 2013 to explore different electronic health record management systems in the private sector,  and the VA replied with a draft proposal outlining the benefits of using the already existing VA records management system.

Unfortunately, I don’t know anyone who currently works for DOD, so I couldn’t get a direct response from my sources over at Facebook. However, in the same article mentioned by my VA contact, the DOD’s deputy chief management officer Beth McGrath indicated that they were looking at the VA system as well as researching other commercial health record management system options.

The commercial health IT space has made tremendous leaps in terms of modernization over the years. We want to ensure that we’re assessing all the capabilities the commercial market brings” – Beth McGrathIn

1.3 billion dollars. And thus far, the only excuse I’ve been able to find as to why it took as long as it did to discontinue funding the already abandoned PLAN A: For a while there, they weren’t quite sure PLAN A was abandoned; both organizations were focusing on what they called “quick wins” while also working toward the aforementioned single-platform goal. Two years later, they ditched PLAN A forever.

“It takes time to turn an aircraft carrier,” Former director of  the Interagency Program Office, Debbie Filippi (ret. 2011)

Thanks for that, Captain Obvious of The Slowest Aircraft Carrier EVER.

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