Defense Chief Recounts His EHR Roots at VA

Pioneering health IT system was Hagel’s priority as VA deputy in the early 1980s.

Amid questions about delays on the integrated electronic health record for the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments at a House hearing yesterday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel noted he had “something to do” with the deployment of the pioneering Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture system while he was deputy VA administrator in 1981 and 1982.

Hagel also told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense that during his time at VA he gained “some knowledge and experience” with electronic health records, a modest twist on the person an early VistA developer told me in January was his top-level backing for VistA against some stiff resistance in 1982.

It’s no surprise that Hagel told lawmakers the iEHR has emerged as a personal “top priority” at the Pentagon. During his first week in office he visited VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to discuss the issue.

Just as telling, Hagel went to see Shinseki at VA headquarters in Washington rather than having Shinseki cross the river to the Pentagon -- a rather nice metaphor for the health information data flow.