(Adds reaction, paragraphs 9-11)
WASHINGTON Feb 5 The U.S. government is
ditching ambitious plans to create a single computer system for
troops and military veterans to track their health records,
opting instead for a more modest, less costly plan that
officials said will deliver on goals faster.
The decision announced on Tuesday is complicated and
technical but goes to the core of President Barack Obama's goal
to create a smooth transition for troops as they leave the
military after 11 years of war and seek care at the Department
of Veterans Affairs.
The two bureaucracies - the largest in the U.S. government -
still lack a shared electronic medical health record for troops,
many of whom have complex injuries and take multiple
medications. A new system, built from the ground up to fix the
problem, was not going to be fully ready until 2017.
"It's frustrating. It's been inefficient for service members
to have to hand-deliver records from one system to another when
they get out of the military," said Defense Secretary Leon
Panetta. "It doesn't make a hell of a lot of sense."
Panetta and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said the new plan
would use existing computer systems - which ones were unclear -
to start delivering by January next year, when troops and
veterans will be able to download health data in a standardized
format both departments can use.
In practical terms, that means information - like details on
medications, allergies, lab tests and clinical notes - will be
readable by both the VA and military doctors in 2014.
"This is a struggle that has gone on for a long number of
years. Some have argued that we should build a perfect system,"
Panetta said. "But for the first time, both DOD and VA have come
together to say we can get this done, we can get it done in an
effective way that does the job."
Officials told reporters the move would save hundreds of
millions of dollars. The price tag of the previous system had
been estimated at some $4 billion.
Initial reaction was negative, with Senator Patty Murray of
Washington, an advocate for veterans issues in Congress, saying
she was disappointed the departments were "backing away from a
truly seamless medical records system."
She estimated that $1 billion had been spent on the
initiative so far.
"I intend to follow-up with both secretaries to find out why
this decision was made," she said in a statement.
The officials did not disclose how much had been spent
developing the new system but stressed that much of that
research would still be used, for example in creating a
standardized language for prescription medications and
Panetta stressed the practicality of the move.
"This approach is affordable. It's achievable," Panetta
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Christopher Wilson and