Tear­ing Down The Wall: Bet­ter Serv­ing Our Vet­er­ans In The Dig­i­tal Age

The Washington Times Daily - - Life -

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Brad Wen­strup (R-OH)

Nearly 24 years ago, Amer­i­can lead­er­ship helped bring down the Ber­lin Wall with­out fir­ing a shot. Now, our ser­vice mem­bers and vet­er­ans are up against a new wall, a wall of bu­reau­cracy. This wall com­pli­cates nearly ev­ery facet of life as they tran­si­tion from ac­tive duty ser­vice to vet­eran sta­tus.

This Vet­er­ans Day, we must re­new our com­mit­ment to those who have served us. Our task be­gins by en­sur­ing that their med­i­cal records, which doc­u­ment years or decades of ser­vice, seam­lessly fol­low them from uni­formed to vet­eran sta­tus. This year, the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives is tak­ing ac­tion to push both the De­part­ments of De­fense (DoD) and Vet­er­ans Af­fairs (VA) to re­al­ize this goal.

Our troops face nu­mer­ous chal­lenges af­ter they serve: tran­si­tion­ing to civil­ian life, find­ing a ca­reer, or con­tin­u­ing their ed­u­ca­tion, to name just a few. Our vet­er­ans should not have to serve as couri­ers be­tween the DoD and VA too. It’s an ad­di­tional and un­nec­es­sary bur­den. We are all one na­tion and our agen­cies should op­er­ate like it. Un­for­tu­nately, in typ­i­cal gov­ern­ment fash­ion, our two big­gest de­part­ments are still not fully ca­pa­ble of dig­i­tally com­mu­ni­cat­ing in the 21st cen­tury.

Early in his Pres­i­dency, Pres­i­dent Obama charged th­ese two de­part­ments to “build a seam­less sys­tem of in­te­gra­tion with a sin­gle goal: when a mem­ber of the Armed Forced sep­a­rates from the mil­i­tary, he or she will no longer have to walk pa­per­work from a DoD duty sta­tion to a lo­cal VA health center; their elec­tronic records will tran­si­tion along with them and re­main with them for­ever.”

Un­for­tu­nately, this orig­i­nal vi­sion of one shared sys­tem for all our past and present ser­vice mem­bers has de­volved into a se­ries of missed mile­stones, shift­ing pri­or­i­ties, and bal­loon­ing bud­gets. The House Vet­er­ans’ Af­fairs Com­mit­tee learned ear­lier this year that th­ese fail­ures have led Pres­i­dent Obama and both de­part­ments to aban­don the orig­i­nal goal of one sys­tem, and in­stead plan con­tin­ued re­liance on sep­a­rate sys­tems in­te­grated to­gether to con­nect elec­tronic health records.

I served as an Army com­bat sur­geon in Iraq and I still serve as a Re­servist. I know that my fel­low mil­i­tary mem­bers, when they re­tire, should not have to con­tinue to wage war at home against bu­reau­cra­cies and pa­per­work. And yet, a doc­tor treat­ing vet­er­ans can­not seam­lessly ac­cess the med­i­cal his­tory of their pa­tient be­cause that his­tory is housed in a sep­a­rate De­fense Depart­ment sys­tem. VA doc­tors re­port that ini­tial steps are im­prov­ing this dig­i­tal shar­ing, while still on sep­a­rate sys­tems. We can and must do bet­ter for our vet­er­ans.

As a physi­cian of 26 years, I have first­hand ex­pe­ri­ence with elec­tronic health record sys­tems – my prac­tice un­der­took the tran­si­tion in 2012. I know that ev­ery doc­tor wants to spend their time car­ing for pa­tients, not nav­i­gat­ing com­plex com­puter sys­tems try­ing to hunt down vi­tal med­i­cal his­tory.

Th­ese frus­tra­tions won’t dis­ap­pear un­til the fed­eral gov­ern­ment achieves its stated goal of build­ing an in­te­grated sys­tem.

This year, the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives is ac­tively work­ing to tackle th­ese is­sues through the bi­par­ti­san H.R. 1960, which I was proud to help pass the House this sum­mer. Im­por­tant sec­tions call for ba­sic in­ter­op­er­abil­ity ca­pa­bil­i­ties within a year, mean­ing that doc­tors on both sides will be able to read­ily view med­i­cal his­tory files.

By 2016, we are de­mand­ing full sys­tem in­te­gra­tion be­tween the two de­part­ments. Th­ese are es­sen­tial steps to­wards re­al­iz­ing a sys­tem that seam­lessly com­mu­ni­cates med­i­cal his­tory files be­tween the de­part­ments, with­out forc­ing the bur­den on to the shoul­ders of our tran­si­tion­ing vet­er­ans. Ul­ti­mately, I be­lieve one sys­tem will best serve our troops and vet­er­ans as they seek care, and full in­te­gra­tion is steer­ing the de­part­ments in the right di­rec­tion.

Fully in­te­grat­ing th­ese elec­tric health records isn’t just about help­ing tran­si­tion­ing vet­er­ans, it’s also es­sen­tial to re­duc­ing our vet­er­ans’ dis­abil­ity back­log. We know that fully de­vel­oped dis­abil­ity claims, those with com­plete med­i­cal his­tory files, take half the amount of time to com­plete com­pared to claims filed with in­com­plete or miss­ing data.

It’s dis­cour­ag­ing for our troops, our vet­er­ans, and our doc­tors to face a wall of bu­reau­cracy that hin­ders care. They de­serve a last­ing so­lu­tion that hon­ors their legacy and ser­vice, and I will con­tinue push­ing both fed­eral agen­cies to­wards an in­te­grated, and ul­ti­mately shared, sys­tem for our ser­vice mem­bers, past and present.

Brad Wen­strup rep­re­sents Ohio’s 2nd Con­gres­sional Dis­trict and serves on both the House Armed Ser­vices and Vet­er­ans’ Af­fairs Com­mit­tees. He is cur­rently a LTC in the Army Re­serve.

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