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Veterans Seen as Suffering as U.S. Scraps Health-Records System

The Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs may let veterans care fall through the cracks by scrapping a plan to build a joint health-records system, U.S. lawmakers said.

Last year, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta pledged to “meet or beat” a 2017 deadline to integrate the two agencies’ networks, one for troops and the other for veterans.

The agencies instead this month scrubbed their plan because of cost and time concerns, and said they will integrate the data without building a new system. The move may hurt veterans struggling to access military medical records and seeking compensation for injuries, said Representative Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.

“Each time the objective changes or the goalposts move, it is service members and veterans who lose the most,” Miller, a Florida Republican, said today at a hearing. “That is unacceptable to this committee, and should be to the VA and the Defense Department as well.”

The two agencies must work together or “veterans fall through the space” between them, said Representative Mike Michaud, a Maine Democrat and the committee’s ranking minority member. “You have no greater responsibility to those who have served and those who serve than to ensure a complete and smooth transition from military back to civilian life.”

Costs Double

A joint health records system might have helped improve veterans’ ability to obtain medical information and speed claims processing, Jacob Gadd, a deputy director for health care at the American Legion, said during the hearing.

Almost 900,000 disability compensation and pension claims were pending as of Feb. 18. More than two-thirds of those claims have been in the system for more than 125 days, the agency’s target processing time.

President Barack Obama in 2009 ordered the agencies to figure out how to share the electronic information. The departments, though, struggled with rising costs.

A joint system was projected in September 2011 to cost $4 billion to $6 billion. A year later, those estimates had doubled, Roger Baker, the VA’s chief information officer, told lawmakers today.

The departments’ new plan will meet the same goals as the joint records system, with “common data, common applications and a common user interface,” Baker said.

“We have done a poor job of communicating the changes we are making to the program,” he said. “We are looking to achieve those goals through a lower-risk, lower-cost path than we were on.”

By scaling down their plans, VA and Defense Department officials said they would be able to deliver a solution by 2014.

The decision to continue using existing records systems benefits incumbent contractors such as SAIC Inc. (SAI), Hewlett-Packard Corp., Dell Inc. (DELL) and Harris Corp. (HRS), according to Bloomberg Government.

-- Editors: Stephanie Stoughton, Daniel Enoch

To contact the reporter on this story: Kathleen Miller in Washington at Kmiller01@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephanie Stoughton at sstoughton@bloomberg.net

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