WASHINGTON May 22 U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck
Hagel will ask the private sector to develop software to track
troops' health records, part of an ambitious plan to create a
system that is fully integrated with the one used by the
nation's military veterans, a U.S. official told Reuters on
Hagel's decision is complicated and technical but goes to
the core of President Barack Obama's goal to create an easier
transition for troops as they leave the military and seek care
at the VA.
The two bureaucracies - the largest in the U.S. government -
are working toward someday fully integrating their electronic
medical health records, something that would facilitate
treatment for veterans and hopefully help speed some future VA
disability claims decisions.
But they abandoned plans in February to create a new, single
system because of concerns about project delays and budget
pressure, stoking concern in Congress after years of investment.
Officials said VA and Pentagon systems would still fully
integrate electronic health records.
The VA decided it would pursue the goal by improving its
existing "VistA" health records system and some lawmakers said
the Department of Defense should do the same.
But Frank Kendall, under secretary of defense for
acquisition, technology and logistics, told Reuters that Hagel
wasn't ready to commit to VistA now and instead decided to bid
the project out to the market to offer a range of options.
"What the secretary decided is that we will do a competition
for the core elements of our healthcare software," Kendall said,
adding the Pentagon would submit a request for proposals in the
next few months and could choose a system within 18 months.
"I don't want to pin myself down to schedules but that's the
kind of timeframe it normally takes us to do a procurement like
Kendall said the Pentagon's market research identified about
20 companies, only three of which have a VistA-based software it
Nita Lowey, a congresswoman from New York and the top
Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, grilled Hagel
last month on the issue, said it was reasonable to assume the
Pentagon should either use VistA or a system that works
seamlessly with it.
"If you pursue a different system, what guarantees do you
have that it will work after five years of failure," she asked.
But Kendall said VistA, in its current form used by the VA,
didn't meet the Pentagon's requirements and would need to be
modernized regardless. Whether modernizing that system is the
best bet for the Pentagon is an open question, he said.
"So there's some risk with that," Kendall said.
"The marketplace is moving toward smarter healthcare
management systems that do more for the doctor. So we're a
generation or two behind right now at DOD. And so is VA. So both
The move to a new software system comes as pressure builds
on the Department of Veterans Affairs to address a pileup of
claims by veterans seeking compensation for disabilities.
Sometimes delays in obtaining health records from the Pentagon
are factor in the delays.
But Kendall said the Pentagon's role in the backlog was
"We're a relatively small part of it. Our analysis is that
it's in the order of five percent or so," he said.