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DoD Looking to Increase Medical Cooperation With VA

By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 14, 2002 – The Defense Department is looking to build "a mutually beneficial partnership" with the Department of Veterans Affairs to minimize both organizations' health care costs.

"As we face the threat of terrorism, it is more important than ever that we ensure effective coordination and cooperation with other federal agencies and organizations with necessary expertise," Dr. Bill Winkenwerder said in prepared remarks to Congress.

The doctor is the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. He testified March 13 before the Personnel Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee on medical issues in President Bush's fiscal 2003 budget request. The administration seeks $20.9 billion for the military health system.

Organizations "with necessary expertise" especially include the VA and Department of Health and Human Services, Winkenwerder said. DoD hopes that a partnership with the VA "optimizes the use of resources and infrastructure to improve access to quality health care and increase the cost-effectiveness of each department's operations," he said. He added the two departments currently have eight joint ventures around the country providing coordinated health care to both VA and DoD medical care beneficiaries.

He told committee members the fiscal 2003 budget request lays out several concrete short-term goals:

  • Establish solid business procedures for reimbursement of services.

  • Improve access to health care through VA participation in TRICARE.

  • Examine joint opportunities in pharmaceuticals.

  • Make it easier for DoD and VA to exchange health care information.

  • Establish a "long-range joint strategic planning activity" between the two agencies.

DoD officials expect to be able to transmit computerized patient medical record data to the VA by fiscal 2005, Winkenwerder said.

"The focus of our efforts is to move the relationship with the VA from one of sharing to a proactive partnership that meets the missions of both agencies while benefiting the service members, veteran and taxpayer," he said.

The assistant secretary also outlined force health protection and medical readiness issues covered in the budget request. "The terrorist acts of last fall placed us on a war footing and escalated the urgency of our need for preparedness," Winkenwerder told the senators.

He said DoD is working to develop investigational new drug protocols and guidelines for smallpox and botulinum toxoid vaccines, and pyridostigmine bromide, or PB, tablets, which are used to counteract the effects of nerve agents. Experts, he added, are also examining the use of the anthrax vaccine and antibiotics as a post-exposure preventive measure -- a technique used after the anthrax attacks loosed in the U.S. mail last year.

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