VA, DoD pull back on electronic health records

The departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs are abandoning plans to create a single shared electronic health records system in favor of a less expensive one built on existing technology, DoD and VA announced Feb. 5.

Since 2008, when Congress ordered the departments to create a seamless system of lifetime health records that would follow troops from recruitment to grave, the DoD/VA Interagency Program Office has worked to develop and deploy an integrated electronic health record system by 2017 at an estimated cost of $4 billion.

But the massive endeavor has met technology challenges and delays. To trim costs and speed up portions of the initiative, the agencies have decided to build a system based on existing programs.

The Defense Department currently uses the DoD Composite Health Care System for its electronic records, while VA uses the Veterans Health Information System and Technology Architecture, or VISTA.

The new effort will allow physicians at seven VA polytrauma facilities and two DoD facilities – Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and San Antonio Military Medical Center – to view clinical information across a common interface by July.

It also will allow VA and DoD to exchange real-time data by the end of the year and permit all patients to download their medical records from any computer by May, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said.

VA and DoD officials, speaking at a news briefing, were vague on the estimated savings of the changes and the cost of the effort so far. DoD deputy chief management officer Elizabeth McGrath estimated the savings to be in the "hundreds of millions."

American Legion National Commander James Koutz responded by saying he was cautiously optimistic about the new plan.

In other news:

Credentialing push: The American Legion’s Economic Division continues to work with departments and others on pushing legislation at the state level that calls for credentialing. Several departments have made significant strides in this endeavor.

• Georgia: As of Feb. 6, the Georgia General Assembly is currently in session and will be introducing HB188 that reads as such: "amend Title 43 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to professions and businesses, so as to provide that certain military certifications shall entitle persons to obtain certain professional licenses in this state; to provide that the spouse of a member of the military living in this state because of the military spouse’s assignment shall be entitled to obtain certain professional licenses based upon his or her licensing in another state; to provide for powers and duties of the director of the professional licensing boards division of the Secretary of State; to provide for related matters; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes."

• Illinois: The National Economic Division and the Department of Illinois are working closely with International Brotherhood of Teamsters Military Assistance Program (TMAP) on state credentialing legislation and programs. Through this partnership, the Gas Utility Workers Training Program (GUWTP) and Teamsters graduated its first class of 21 veterans Oct. 12. All of them were given a year-long membership in The American Legion, paid for by Women for Wounded Warriors. The graduates all became members of the historic People’s Gas Post 336 in Chicago.

• Elsewhere: Members of the departments of Maryland, Indiana and Kansas are testifying in their state legislatures on bills that would address credentialing and academic credit for military training and education.

• Military Occupation Specialties: The National Economic Division is working with the departments of New Jersey and Florida separately about military occupation specialties (MOS) that the states can examine to see if they fall under state jurisdiction and create state legislation to address these MOSs.

Hiring Our Heroes: The American Legion hosted a veterans hiring event last week at Post 42 in Cartersville, Ga. The Department of Georgia, Department of Labor, Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve and the USCC all supported the event. On the day of the event, 13 employers were present and over 55 veteran jobseekers and spouses attended. Media representatives from the Daily Tribune were present to cover the event. Overall, there were 73 résumés accepted, 35 interviews given, 16 provisional hires and seven on-the-spot hires. A special ‘thank you’ goes to the Legion’s National Economic Chairman Dale Barnett, the Department of Georgia and all the volunteers from Post 42.

North Dakota jobs: North Dakota is experiencing national exposure and expanded job opportunities with the onset of the fracking-induced oil boom. The infrastructure is burgeoning to accommodate the influx of workers into the state. There are thousands of jobs outside the petroleum industry in construction, office management, public service, teaching, customer service and real estate.

For more information about what is happening in a small county in North Dakota that has experienced this sudden growth, click here. According to Jerry Samuelson, Past Department Commander, North Dakota (2009-2010) and McKenzie County’s Veterans Service Officer, Watford City, the county needs more workers.

The first step for a veteran seeking employment in North Dakota is to link up with the state’s employment services. SkillBuildND is a new program aimed at identifying and funding training opportunities for unemployed, underemployed and dislocated workers in North Dakota. Special emphasis is placed on providing training opportunities to veterans. Currently, SkillBuildND funds training, provides financial assistance for tuition, books, fees, and required training tools to help prepare eligible participants for jobs in North Dakota’s growing oil industry and building trades.

HAVEN Act: The Economic Division met with Jesse Walls, legislative director for Rep. Steve Stivers of Ohio, to discuss support for H.R. 385, Housing Assistance for Veterans Act of 2013 or HAVEN Act. The HAVEN Act would create a Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) pilot program to give grants to nonprofit organizations – like Habitat for Humanity and Rebuilding Together – to rehabilitate and modify homes of low-income veterans and veterans with disabilities. Under the bill, the nonprofit organizations that receive funding would be encouraged to collaborate with veterans service organizations like The American Legion to locate veterans and provide them the assistance they need with their homes. The housing pilot program also would help augment existing programs like VA’s Specially Adaptive Housing program and housing assistance programs administered by HUD. Nonprofits organizations could pool their resources with these federal housing assistance programs and affect a larger population of veterans who need assistance with their homes.

Working with USDA: The Economic Division was invited along with the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to the 4-H Military Partnerships annual meeting Feb. 6 in northern Virginia. The USDA and The American Legion entered into an MOU in February 2012. The MOU drives at finding gainful employment for veterans, whether it’s through agriculture, employment with the agency or small businesses

The American Legion is included in USDA’s strategic plan to implement its vision. 4-H is one of USDA’s national programs that have drawn heavily from the local Legion to sustain their organization. The meeting was aimed at finding out new ways in which our two organizations can continue to work together. Many 4-H members gave thanks to the Legion for our volunteer hours, funding and patronage of their events and programs. The Departments of Ohio and Illinois were singled out, specifically, for everything they’ve done for their local 4-H chapters.

Legislative Council: The Legislative Division continues to rebuild the membership of the National Legislative Council for the 113th Congress. Council recommendation forms were emailed to department leadership in December, asking for nominations for new congressional members. Completed forms were due in the Legislative Division offices in Washington, D.C., by Jan. 18. So far, 31 departments have returned their nomination forms. The importance of the Legislative Council cannot be overstated. It is an especially important voice for The American Legion family, and the way in which members of Congress can be quickly contacted when legislative action is needed. Departments are urged to complete their nomination forms and return them to the Legislative Division offices as soon as possible.

Defense budget: Defense Secretary Leon Panetta revealed that the proposed military pay raise for 2014 is 1 percent, and that the department is proceeding in a careful way to do its part to cut the deficit and preserve military capabilities. "No one is getting a pay cut, but we will provide a pay raise that’s smaller than we’ve seen in past years in order to achieve some savings by virtue of what we confront in the compensation area," Panetta said. Read more here

American Legion National Commander James Koutz issued a statement criticizing the decision:

American Legion Resolution No. 55: Protecting the Defense Budget

American Legion Resolution No. 63: Rebuild America’s Defense Industrial Base

Claims: During the week ending Feb. 1, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals reached dispositions on 121 American Legion represented appeals. Of those dispositions, 70.2 percent of the denials were overturned with outcomes favorable to the veteran. In 29 cases, the board granted benefits outright after considering The American Legion’s arguments. In 56 cases, The American Legion was able to point out errors in the development of the veterans’ claims which mandated corrective action under the law. Of the total number of dispositions, 32 (26.4 percent) were outright denials.

Also during this period, the BVA Appeals Unit reviewed, prepared written Informal Hearing Presentations (IHP), and/or orally argued 108 veterans’ appeals. The administrative team completed 201 phone inquires during this period.

POW/MIA update:

• 2nd Lt. William R. Parkinson, U.S. Army, B-24D Liberator Pilot, was lost on May 7, 1944, near the Papua New Guinea town of Lae. He was accounted for on Jan. 15, 2013.

• Pfc. Weldon A. Davis, U.S. Army, 2nd Infantry Division, was lost in Jan.1951, near the Ch’ongch’ River in North Korea. He was accounted for on Feb. 3, 2013.