Obama Announces Joint Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 9, 2009 President Barack Obama announced plans today to create a joint virtual lifetime electronic record that will improve care and services to transitioning veterans by smoothing the flow of medical records between the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments.
The concept, long advocated by officials in both departments, is considered a major step toward improving the delivery of care and services to servicemembers transitioning from military to civilian life.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki flanked the president as described the initiative to an audience of wounded warriors, veterans and veterans service organization leaders.
The goal, he said, is simple and straightforward.
“When a member of the armed forces separates from the military, he or she will no longer have to walk paperwork from a [Defense Department] duty station to a local VA health center,” Obama explained. “Their electronic records will transition along with them and remain with them forever.”
No comprehensive system is currently in place to streamline the transition of health records between the two departments, the president noted. “And that results in extraordinary hardship for an awful lot of veterans who end up finding their records lost [or] unable to get their benefits processed in a timely fashion,” he said.
Obama said he’s heard countless stories over the years about veterans who found it almost impossible to get the benefits they had earned – even when their disabilities and needs were clearly evident.
“That's why I'm asking both departments to work together to define and build a seamless system of integration,” he said.
Ultimately, the new system will include both administrative and medical information from the day recruits enter military service, throughout their military careers, and after they retire or leave the military.
“This would represent a huge step toward modernizing the way health care is delivered and benefits are administered for our nation's veterans,” Obama said. “It would cut through red tape and reduce the number of administrative mistakes.”
In addition, it would enable VA sites to access veterans’ complete military medical records, within rigorous privacy and security protections, so VA staffs have the information they need to deliver high-quality care, Obama said.
The president recognized the debt the country owes its servicemembers and veterans.
“We have a sacred trust with those who wear the uniform of the United States of America,” he said. “It's a commitment that begins in enlistment, and it must never end.” But for too long, the United States has fallen short of that commitment, he added.
“Too many wounded warriors go without the care that they need,” he said. “Too many veterans don't receive the support that they've earned. Too many who once wore our nation's uniform now sleep in our nation's streets.
“It's time to change all that,” he continued. “It's time to give our veterans a 21st-century VA.”
Officials call access to electronic records essential to modern health-care delivery and the paperless administration of benefits. It provides a framework to ensure all health-care providers have all the information they need to deliver high-quality health care, while reducing medical errors, they said.
The joint virtual lifetime record will take the next leap to delivering seamless, high-quality care while serving as a national model, officials said.
Obama said America’s troops and veterans deserve nothing less.
“As I look out in the audience, especially seeing these folks in their uniforms, I am reminded of the fact that we have the best fighting force in world history,” he said. “And the reason we do is because of all of you. And so I'm very grateful for what you've done to protect and serve this country.”