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Legion attends seamless transition hearing

On May 18, The American Legion attended the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing, “Seamless Transition: Improving VA–DOD Collaboration.” The committee held the hearing to examine the ongoing efforts by the departments of Defense and the Veterans Affairs to provide a “seamless transition” for U.S. servicemembers and veterans from one department to the other. Witnesses before the committee were Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III and Deputy VA Secretary W. Scott Gould.

The partnership to ensure seamless transitions for wounded warriors from military to VA medical care has made significant progress, but work remains to be done, Lynn said. Both Lynn and Gould laid out their goals and achievements to show the progress of the partnership, established four years ago.

The new Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES), which DoD and VA developed, serves more servicemembers than the prior system. The old system is still being phased out,; wounded warriors in that program still are being processed concurrently with the full adoption of the new system. IDES is expected to be in place by year’s end, according to both witnesses.

In the new system, servicemembers will get a single set of physical disability exams based on VA medical protocol, and processing will be done simultaneously by DoD and VA. Also servicemembers will continue to receive their full pay, allowances, compensation, medical base support care and benefits under the new system, which should largely eliminate the benefits gap under the former system. The new evaluation system is expected to cut processing time down to 400 days, compared to 540 days under the former system. Lynn said the processing time goal is to eventually be less than 300 days.

With regard to DoD and VA working together toward a common electronic health records system, the witnesses said, “Among the many current systems that exchange data to varying degrees, DoD and VA have created a service called the ‘Blue Button’ that will allow beneficiaries to safely and securely access personal health data at TRICARE Online.” To support the most severely wounded and injured, the large military medical centers provide scanned records and radiology images for patients transferring to VA polytrauma rehabilitation centers.

However, more work needs to be done to successfully integrate electronic health records. DoD and VA have agreed to implement a joint common platform that has compatible data and services, joint data centers, common interface standards and a common presentation format.

Substantial challenges remain in the process. One challenge is the need for further improvements in the coordination of medical care for the injured. And DoD has outstanding prosthetic care, but VA needs to do much better. Consequently, there will more hearings on seamless transition. Next week the committee will hear from some of the wounded warriors going through this process and hear about their experiences.