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Opening Statement of Hon. Harry E. Mitchell, Chairman, and a Representative in Congress from the State of Arizona

This hearing will come to order.

One of the concerns I have heard from veterans is how difficult the process can be as they transition from their active duty status to veteran.  And one of the great difficulties they experience is having their full and complete medical records from the Department of Defense available to their VA doctors.

This problem isn’t new.

In 1998, President Clinton called on the VA and D-O-D to develop a – quote – “comprehensive, life-long medical record for each service member.”  That was nearly 10 years ago.  But up to this point, progress has been painfully slow and increasingly expensive.

That’s why we’re having this hearing today… so this Subcommittee can continue its efforts to provide oversight, and do what we can to speed up the progress and make electronic medical records sharing a reality.

We all know that there are many benefits to this. First, we will be making sure that veterans receive better medical care by saving time, and avoiding errors. Second, we will also lower costs so taxpayer dollars are more wisely spent. That’s a worthy goal as well.

I’m glad to know that the VA and D-O-D are working on some demonstration projects in this area, and I’m eager to get an update on it.

I want to take a moment to acknowledge the VA and D-O-D’s progress in their long term efforts to achieve a two-way electronic data exchange capability.  They have implemented 3 of 4 earlier GAO recommendations, including

  • Developing an architecture for the electronic interface between D-O-D Clinical Data Repository and VA’s Health Data Repository
  • Selecting a lead entity with final decision making authority for the initiative, and
  • Establishing a project management structure.

That’s a good start, but there’s much more to do.

One of my greatest concerns is that the VA and D-O-D have not yet developed a clearly defined project management plan that provides a detailed description of the technical and managerial process necessary to satisfy project requirements as the GAO has repeatedly suggested in the past.

For example, all the way back in December 2004, the VA/D-O-D Executive Council Annual Report found that the cost for the Government Computer Based Patient Record/Federal Health Information Exchange was approximately $85 million through FY 2003.

But here we are, four years later… the costs continue to grow… and the consequences for delay are growing too.

We want to know why this isn’t getting done, and how much longer our veterans have to wait.  I believe they’ve already waited long enough.

I look forward to today’s testimony.