The Veterans Affairs Department requested $3.7 billion for its 2014 information technology budget -- a 10 percent jump over 2013 spending. W. Todd Grams, the department’s chief financial officer, told a press briefing Wednesday that IT is central to VA’s ability to deliver benefits.
More than half of the $495.3 million requested for IT development in 2014, $252 million, is allocated for development of an integrated electronic health record and the related Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record with the Defense Department, a project all but considered dead this February when the two departments halted plans to develop the new system from scratch.
VA spokesman Josh Taylor told Nextgov, “The budget request demonstrates just how committed the two departments are to delivering a single, joint, common integrated electronic health record based on an open architecture and non-proprietary in design.”
Defense has requested $75.8 million for the iEHR.
In February, then Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said he had agreed with VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to work on making the departments’ existing systems work together instead of building a new system. “Rather than building a single integrated system from scratch, we will focus our immediate efforts on integrating VA and DOD health data as quickly as possible, by focusing on interoperability and using existing solutions, “Panetta said.
VA’s 2014 IT budget discloses that the two departments will continue to rely on their EHR core systems - the Armed Forces Health Longitudinal Technology Application, or AHLTA, and the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture, known as VistA: They “will use common standards, infrastructure, and core services to ensure interoperability between the departments.”
The “most critical goal” for the iEHR project in 2014, the budget said, is deployment of the iEHR initial operating capability at hospitals and clinics in San Antonio, Texas, and Norfolk, Va., a plan first detailed by VA in April 2012.
VA tapped the iEHR development dollars to expand the Nationwide Health Information Network, renamed the eHealth Exchange, to share health care data with private hospitals, other federal agencies such as the Social Security Administration and Defense.
The department also will use a portion of its $32.6 million IT funding line devoted to new models for health care to integrate it Defense and VA Secure Messaging Systems.
As previously announced, VA has budgeted $155 million for its paperless Veterans Benefits Management System, which is critical to breaking the claims backlog, Grams said. The backlog has hovered around 900,000 for the past year. To help cope with mountains of paper files, Grams said VA has requested $136 million to scan and digitize documents.