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VA adopts standard identifier for vets in health and benefits programs

This article was updated Wednesday, Aug. 11, at 4:14 pm.

The Veterans Affairs Department has adopted a standard identifier for all veterans to use in all its systems, including one to build electronic health records that will follow them from enlistment to death, VA's chief information officer said on Wednesday.

The identifier will apply to the department's entire universe of beneficiaries and will support data exchange for a joint project with the Defense Department called the Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record for active-duty military personnel and veterans, which President Obama announced in April 2009, CIO Roger Baker said during a press briefing.

The standard is based on a 2004 presidential directive that established common identification standards for all federal employees and contractors.

Baker said VA uses the Electronic Data Interchange Personal Identifier, which the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System employs to identify military personnel and contractors, to assign the universal identifiers to veterans in its health care and benefits information systems.

The 10-digit EDPI is part of a unique identification system for federal employees mandated by Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 and appears on a bar code on the Common Access Card that Defense employees use to access military computer systems.

VA adopted the EDPI standard six weeks ago and Baker said it is a critical and "exciting" component for development of the Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record.

The move is "a great first step along the road to dealing with the many issues that have been practical barriers to reaching what everyone really wants for our servicemen and veterans: development of a lifetime electronic medical record," said Ed Meagher, director of health care strategic initiatives at SRA International and a former deputy CIO at VA.

Baker emphasized EDPI will be used internally in VA information technology systems, and the department will pair it with an existing identifier in its health care systems to identify patients.

A congressional source said the idea to use HSPD-12 and EDPI standards was originally included in the 2006 Veterans Identity and Credit Security Act, which Rep. Steve Buyer, R-Ind., introduced. But the House Armed Services Committee and the Office of Management and Budget had the language removed.

The Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System, the central repository for military personnel data, uses EDPI as the primary identifier for everyone in the Defense Department, according to a March 28, 2008, memo from David S.C. Chu, who at the time was the Defense undersecretary for personnel and readiness.

Chu said Defense uses EDPI only for machine-to-machine transactions and the identifier "is not a number that is known to the individuals, and it is never intended that the EDPI be used outside of machine-to-machine transactions."

The Military Health System uses EDPI as a patient identifier for more than 9 million service health care beneficiaries, according to a presentation by Mary Dixon, director of the Defense Manpower Data Center, and Janine Groth, chief of the Defense enrollment eligibility reporting system division, which is part of the Defense Manpower Data Center. They spoke at an MHS conference in January.

Dixon and Groth said unique identifiers can never be changed or reissued, and can be cross-referenced to other identifiers such as Social Security numbers and Medicare identifiers.

They said EDPI can be used to unite information across a variety of Defense and VA systems, including joint indemnity repositories, the VA master patient index, the Defense clinical data repository and the AHLTA electronic health record system.

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