Faster transfer of treatment records will help VA speed up claims processing.
The Army and Air Force have contracted with a division of Goodwill Industries to scan and then transmit to the Veterans Affairs Department millions of pages of service treatment records of Army and Air Force personnel discharged this year.
VA and the Defense Department agreed last February that Defense would be scanning all treatment records for for electronic transfer to VA at the start of 2014.
Army Lt. Col. Cathy Wilkinson, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said the scanning contracts with Goodwill Industries in San Antonio are administered through a federal AbilityOne program that aims to employ the blind or people with other “significant disabilities.” AbilityOne says it has extensive document management experience in 150 federal, military and mail business processing centers and handles imaging and indexing, including work on electronic health records.
A service treatment record contains all medical information on an active duty service member, from his or her first physical examination upon entering service through their final physical before discharge. VA needs complete treatment records to evaluate disability claims. Currently it takes the department 125 days to retrieve STRs from Defense, extending the time required to process a claim.
The Army has a one-year scanning contract with Goodwill valued at $4.5 million and the Air Force has a $4 million contract, both expiring in September. Goodwill will scan 12,000 Army Service treatment records a month or 84,000 a year and 5,500 Air Force records or 66,000 through September, Wilkinson said.
Michael Zahn, marketing director for Goodwill in San Antonio said that under a contract last year the organization scanned 152,900 Army and 65,000 Air Force treatment records “with 100 percent accuracy.” He said the business unit that runs the scanning contracts employs 60 veterans out of a staff of 400.
The Navy awarded a $5 million, 18-month contract to Anacomp Inc. to scan 7,000 treatment records per month for discharged Navy and Marine personnel, with 13 million individual pages to be scanned in the first year of the contract.
Wilkinson did not detail how many individual pages of Army and Air Force service treatment records will be scanned by Goodwill, but based on the average of 155 pages in a Navy treatment record covered by the Anacomp contract, this works out to 22.3 million pages for Army records and 10.2 million for the Air Force this year.
The task requires an extensive shipping operation, with millions of pages of treatment records sent by certified mail or courier from military treatment facilities to the central processing centers in San Antonio.
Wilkinson said Goodwill has hired “a large number of disabled veterans and wounded warriors” to support the scanning contracts and “scans must be 100-percent validated after they are scanned, sheet for sheet, by the employee and under DoD guidance.”
She said contract oversight through the Air Force Medical Operations Agency requires a quality check sample each day to ensure 100 percent validation, with increased sampling if needed.
The treatment records are scanned into the Defense Healthcare Artifact and Image Management Solution and pulled by VA into its paperless Veterans Benefits Management System.
While the Navy once specified that individual pages in a service treatment record would be identified by metadata based on date of birth and Social Security number, that requirement has changed. Marina Martin, VA's chief technology officer, said treatment record metadata tags include an “AHLTA identifier” based on records in the Armed Forces Health Longitudinal Technology Application.
Martin said Defense and VA have conducted extensive tests of the scanning system and the VBMS interface and “we have successfully transmitted service treatment records end to end.”