Honorable Michael H. Michaud
I want to thank the Chairs of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and Armed Services for holding this joint hearing today. Transition is a critical issue that greatly affects our servicemembers and veterans.
This hearing is the second joint hearing our two Committees have held concerning transition. The purpose of this hearing is to reiterate our joint oversight commitment, and ensure that VA and DoD work together on behalf of the men and women who are sent into harm’s way.
At last year’s joint hearing on this topic, the two Agency Secretaries appeared before us, sitting side by side. I am disappointed to see that neither is here today. I take this lack of personal engagement as a sign that they care less, that they are not as committed, that they have delegated – abdicated – ownership of this issue. My disappointment is solidified by receiving testimony in the eleventh hour. Clearly, this issue, and this hearing, is not a priority.
I would submit to you that the government has struggled to fulfill the “sacred trust” to care for those who have served and sacrificed in defense of our nation. After twelve years of war, we know transition is the critical first step, and it requires the cooperation of many agencies to accomplish successfully. I do not believe we have made any measurable progress in getting the two agencies before us today to work more effectively together.
The Department of Defense has announced it will put out to bid for a new system to manage its health records. Such a decision appears to back an interoperable approach over an integrated one. An integrated – integrated, not interoperable - electronic health record is something that Congress mandated years ago. We have spent hundreds of millions of dollars. Delaying the delivery of an integrated – that is integrated, not interoperable - information sharing system runs directly against Congressional intent, and ultimately hurts our veterans.
Also, of particular importance to our Committees is the claims backlog. Let me be clear, both VA and DoD have a responsibility to end the backlog by 2015. The claims backlog is not a “VA issue”. DoD must do a better job of transferring veteran and servicemember’s records to VA in a timely and complete manner.
This includes the records of our National Guard and Reservists. It also includes late and loose records being sent to VA.
Because benefits and healthcare affect so many servicemembers and veterans, DoD and VA must put aside their parochial differences and work more effectively together to ensure an integrated – that’s integrated, not interoperable - process addressing transition issues.
Over the course of the last several months we sent letters to the Secretaries, and the President, asking for their personal commitment and support. We requested concrete decisions be made in a timely manner. What we received in response is a no-show to this hearing, and a press conference that kicks the decisions down the road… again.
And, it would appear that leadership is lacking not just at this hearing. During a recent Roundtable on the iEHR, industry leaders told us progress is not due to a lack of available technology solutions, but rather a lack of leadership. When two divisions in their companies can’t - or won’t - agree, the CEO steps in and mandates a direction. Where is DoD and VA’s “CEO”?
Just recently, in a bi-partisan effort and due to ongoing congressional concerns with the lack of a unified vision between VA and DoD electronic health record programs, language was included as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2014. This language created a deliberate approach in developing a joint electronic health record.
I am told that strategies have been modified and collaborative efforts are ongoing for both records transfer and iEHR. However, months continue to go by with seemingly no real progress.
I look forward to hearing from our panelists today just how far they have come, and to learn about the path ahead on the transition issues that are the focus of this hearing today.
Thank you and I yield back.