Senators want VA backlog erased
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has decided to buy a new computerized health record system to be able to better share and merge its data with the Department of Veterans Affairs, but officials cautioned that it is part of a “long-term modernization” effort and would not help ease the backlog in VA disability claims.
The announcement Wednesday was made on a day when Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki were called to Capitol Hill to explain to frustrated lawmakers what progress they are making in speeding up decisions on disability claims applications.
Veterans groups and congressional lawmakers have criticized the VA for the number of disability claims pending longer than 125 days — about 570,000, nearly two-thirds of all claims pending.
Hagel and Shinseki acknowledged that there is a lot more work to do. But Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said a sense of urgency is needed. “We want fire in the belly from the agencies and we want action,” she said.
Mikulski, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said all members of her committee were present to talk to Hagel and Shinseki in what she called a first-ever roundtable for every agency involved in veterans issues. That included the Internal Revenue Service and the Social Security Administration.
“We know they're stressed, we know they're strained,” she said of the federal agencies. “But we have put a lot of money in the federal checkbook to make sure they have the right personnel and the right technology. Now they've got to use it in the right way to shrink this backlog.”
Officials have said repeatedly that the backlog is owed at least in part to the lack of an integrated record system between the Pentagon and VA. The two departments have computer systems that don't talk to each other, delaying the transfer of service members' records when they leave the military and come under the VA's care.
The Pentagon said in a statement earlier Wednesday that Hagel had ordered the Defense Department to get bids for development of the new Pentagon health records system.
The statement said the system — along with efforts already under way to speed service to veterans — will improve continuity of care but does not address “the problem of the existing VA backlog.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.