Hagel orders Pentagon to buy new health records system

Lawmakers have criticized the Pentagon and VA for failing to create a single unified health system, after the VA chose to upgrade its current system and the Pentagon had its own plans.

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House Veterans Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) and ranking member Michael Michaud (D-Maine) sent a letter with 18 other panel members to President Obama on Wednesday urging him to intervene.

“The time has come for a decision to be made and for the permanent merging of electronic health-care records of the DOD and the VA,” the lawmakers wrote. “Select a system, pick a path and move forward. We can no longer waste the time or money that will result from endless bureaucratic inaction.”

Hagel and Shinseki held a roundtable discussion Wednesday with Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and members of the Appropriations Committee to discuss the VA’s disability claims backlog and electronic records transition.

Shinseki has vowed to end the claims backlog by 2015. The VA has roughly 600,000 disability claims that have not been processed within its goal of 125 days.

Mikulski told reporters after the meeting that lawmakers would continue to press the two agencies.

"We want fire in the belly from the agencies… not only with words, but with deeds,” Mikulski said.

Hagel noted that the new computer system would not reduce the current VA backlog, but he said that it would ensure future veterans don’t face the same problems.

A former VA official, Hagel noted he has plenty of experience dealing with the issues surrounding medical records.

“As a former VA leader, Senator and veteran I have been involved in veterans issues for many years, and have some understanding and appreciation of the complications and difficulties of this backlog issue,” Hagel said.

Some lawmakers were not happy with the Pentagon's proposal to enlist a new medical records system.

"I’m disappointed in this decision prior to the Memorial Day Weekend. It appears to back an interoperable approach over an integrated one," Michaud said in a statement. "An integrated electronic health record is something that Congress mandated years ago and has already spent hundreds of millions of dollars on. Delaying the delivery of a seamless information sharing system runs directly against congressional intent, and ultimately hurts our veterans.”

A group of Democrats on the VA Committee led by Michaud introduced a package of 10 bills Wednesday to help the VA and Pentagon address the backlog. They unveiled the bills at a press conference with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

House VA Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) said in a statement that he looked forward to working with both Democrats and Republicans on ideas to fix the backlog, but he did not take a position on the 10 bills introduced on Wednesday.

— This story was updated at 6:27 p.m.