Lynn Cites Progress in DOD, VA Partnership

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)

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