With No Permanent Leadership, VA Forges Ahead on $16 Billion Health Records Effort

Adm. Ronny Jackson

Adm. Ronny Jackson Alex Brandon/AP

The Veterans Affairs Department will press on with its electronic health records contract without a permanent secretary or chief information officer.

The Veterans Affairs Department will proceed with its $16 billion electronic health records contract without permanent leadership at the agency or in its tech shop.

VA Press Secretary Curt Cashour said in a statement Wednesday that finalizing the electronic health records modernization was a “specific near-term priority” for acting Secretary Robert Wilkie, who stepped in following the March departure of Secretary Shulkin.

Adm. Ronny Jackson, who President Trump nominated to replace Shulkin, withdrew his name from consideration Thursday, and the White House has not yet named another pick for secretary.

Following Shulkin’s firing, acting Chief Information Officer Scott Blackburn announced his resignation. Blackburn has been replaced by Camilo Sandoval, who formerly served as the department’s undersecretary for health.

Before his firing, Shulkin had been expected to solidify an agreement with Cerner to bring VA onto the same commercial health records platform as the Pentagon. Questions over funding and contractor expectations held up the contract, which was announced last year.

Congress, however, appears eager to keep the deal alive. A House appropriations bill released Wednesday allocates $1.2 billion for the EHR system. The money will go to "activities related to implementation, preparation, development, interface, management, rollout and maintenance” of the new records system.