(U.S. Senate) – Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Jon Tester today questioned officials heading up the VA’s transition to an electronic health record system for more than nine million veterans.
During an Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the transition of the VA’s Electronic Health Record System to the Cerner system used by the Defense Department, Tester raised concerns that reported delays in implementation could create a domino effect of delays over the course of the ten-year transition.
“It’s no secret that making joint decisions and balancing priorities with agencies the size of the VA and Defense Department is quite the challenge,” said Tester. “Yet we’re only a year out from the first rollout of the new electronic health records at the VA and there still hasn’t been anyone designated as the ultimate decision making authority between these two departments.”
Tester asked for a prompt response to his recent letter with Senator Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which urged VA Secretary Robert Wilkie and Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan to better work together to ensure a seamless transition for veterans who will rely on the new system to access their health records.
Tester also expressed his frustration with the lack of transparency and communication in the implementation of his bipartisan reform of the VA’s community care programs.
“I want to express my disappointment with how the VA has consulted with Congress and other stakeholders on its plans for the new Community Care Program,” said Tester. “Just yesterday the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs Committees and subcommittees responsible for funding the VA signed a joint letter encouraging the Department to work more collaboratively with Congress. When the eight members responsible with oversight of the VA’s policies and funding have to remind the VA to be more open, transparent, complete and candid, you’ve got a problem.”
Tester also asked VA General Counsel James Byrne about the recent Federal Circuit Court of Appeals ruling on Procopio v Wilkie.
“Last Tuesday the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that territorial seas should be included in the definition of “service in the Republic of Vietnam” from the Agent Orange Act of 1991. Does the VA intend to appeal the Procopio ruling to the Supreme Court?” Tester asked.
Byrne responded that the decision to appeal was under consideration by the VA but final decisions have yet to be made.
Tester and Reed’s letter to Wilkie and Shanahan can be read online HERE. Tester’s letter to Wilkie regarding the VA’s lack of transparency while implementing bipartisan reforms can be read online HERE. More information about today’s hearing can be found online HERE.