WASHINGTON — The partnership to ensure seamless transitions for wounded warriors from military to Veterans Affairs medical care has made significant progress, but work remains to be done, Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III said here today.
In testimony before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Lynn and Deputy Veterans Affairs Secretary W. Scott Gould laid out their goals and achievements to show the progress of the partnership, established four years ago.
“The professionalism and commitment of the staff in both departments is helping make [seamless transition] a reality,” Lynn told the committee. “We’ve reached a historic level of cooperation between the departments.”
A modernized disability evaluation system is one of the vital tools to create seamless transitions, Lynn said, noting that the former system remained relatively unchanged for decades.
The new Integrated Disability Evaluation System, which DOD and VA developed, serves more service members, Lynn said, and full adoption of the new system, expected to be in place by year’s end, is the partnership’s top priority.
In the new system, service members will get a single set of physical disability exams based on VA medical protocol, and processing will be done simultaneously by DOD and VA. “This will create more consistent evaluations and a more orderly experience for service members and their families,” Lynn told the committee.
Also, he said, service members will continue to receive their full pay, allowances, compensation, medical base support care and benefits under the new system, which “largely eliminates the benefits gap” under the former system. The new evaluation system is faster and more fair, and it’s expected to cut processing time substantially, he added. Processing time now is down to 400 days, compared to 540 days under the former system, he said.
“It has not reached [our] goal of processing in less than 300 days,” he acknowledged. “We have further to go, but we don’t plan to stop there.”
Lynn noted that as DOD and VA work together toward a common electronic health records system, they’re collaborating on a number of other fronts.
“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,” he said. To support the most severely wounded and injured, he added, the large military medical centers provide scanned records and radiology images for patients transferring from to VA polytrauma rehabilitation centers.
“But to create a truly integrated electronic health record,” Lynn said, “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.”
It’s is an ambitious program, but one with great potential benefits, Lynn said. Noting the effort required in developing any large-scale information technology system, especially an interoperable system across two major federal departments, he said DOD and VA officials are observing lessons from other successful large joint IT systems. “We plan to use those lessons to lead us to the best possible outcome,” he said.
The achievements of the DOD-VA partnership so far cannot be overstated, Lynn said, and the work that remains cannot be underestimated.
“Taking care of our wounded, ill and injured service members is one of the highest priorities for the department, the service secretaries, and the service chiefs,” Lynn told the committee, noting that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has made it clear that “other than the wars themselves, we have no higher priority.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)