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Opening Statement of Hon. Cliff Stearns, a Representative in Congress from the State of Florida

 

Over and over again, for several years now, we have held hearings, heard testimony, and listened to a number of recommendations to make the transition of active duty service members to the Veterans’ Administration as smooth as possible. And here we are again today, with many of the same issues outstanding, and numerous recommendations left undone! 

Last year’s GAO report quoted VA officials as saying that the transfer of service members to their system from the DOD would be more efficient if the Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center’s (PRC) medical personnel had real time access to the service members’ complete DOD electronic medical records.  As Yogi Berra said, this is deja-vu all over again!  These are the same opinions we have heard from all medical personnel in the VA system for years, and yet little has been accomplished to provide access to patient’s comprehensive medical files.

Allow me a brief moment to recap the history of this issue.  Back in 1982, Congress identified the sharing of medical records as a critical need, and passed the ‘Veterans Administration and the Department of Defense Health Resources Sharing and Emergency Operations Act’ that created the first interagency committee to supervise those opportunities to exchange information between the two departments. In 1996, the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses reported on many deficiencies in VA’s and DoD’s data capabilities for handling servicemembers’ health information.  In November 1997, the President called for the two agencies to start developing a “comprehensive, lifelong medical record for each service member,” and in 1998 issued a directive requiring VA and DoD to develop a “computer based patient record system that will accurately and efficiently exchange information.”  In 2003, President Bush established the Task Force to Improve Health Care Delivery for Our Nation’s Veterans.  The first recommendation of this task force four years ago was that the VA and DOD should “develop and deploy by fiscal year 2005” electronic medical records that are interoperable for both systems and standards based.  We are two years beyond that deadline and not much closer to its completion.

GAO has previously commented on the departments’ initial project, and described the results as “disappointing progress, exacerbated by inadequate accountability and poor planning and oversight.”   The VA has 3 separate electronic health records systems that it uses, and has spent $76 million on this interoperability project since its inception.  The DOD has 7 separate electronic health records systems, and also has spent $76 million for its portion of the interoperability project since its inception.  SO we are left with $152 million in expenditures for 10 different systems, and none of them can effectively share information as we have been requesting for over a decade!  I understand that the departments are now considering further compromise by trying to provide ‘read-only’ access to VA centers instead of requiring full interoperability because the process has become so complicated.  This is simply unacceptable.  DOD and VA must come up with a plan, with clear assignments, timelines and responsibilities to implement information sharing between the departments.  Our veterans’ medical treatments are being delayed, our patience is wearing thin, and we will not spend another decade in fruitless hearings.  Our veterans deserve better. 

Thank you Mr. Chairman.