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DOD, VA Executives Team Up on Health Care IT Improvements

Top information technology leaders from the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs are joining forces to improve system interoperability and collaboration at a first-of-its-kind health care facility serving both active-duty service members and veterans.

Together, the Pentagon and VA have assembled a deep bench of experts to solve a perennial challenge for employees at the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center near Chicago: how to work seamlessly and securely across DOD and VA networks in order to provide patients with top-level care.

A group of sailors in uniform stand in formation as a sailor raises the American flag outside of a building
Health Care Center
Members of the James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center color guard raise the American flag during morning colors in Great Lakes, Ill, Apr. 7, 2015.
Photo By: Navy Seaman James L. Stewart
VIRIN: 150407-N-D0439-002

"In the Department of Defense, we have constructed our networks to work together and to be secure," said DOD Principal Deputy Chief Information Officer Leslie A. Beavers. "But we work increasingly with people outside of the immediate Department of Defense, and that's the biggest challenge that we've been facing there at North Chicago, is integrating the Veterans Administration workforce with the Navy workforce that's there in a meaningful fashion." 

The facility opened in 2010 as the first fully integrated DOD-VA health care facility serving both active-duty members and their families, military retirees and veterans enrolled in VA-provided health care.

It is currently the only facility to serve both DOD and VA patients, and integrating the two information systems underlying each agency has proven to be a consistent challenge.  

"You can imagine, it's a workforce that views itself as a unified workforce … and so they shouldn't know or care whether a particular piece of information is on a DOD network or a VA network. " said VA Deputy Assistant Secretary, Office of Information and Technology Dewaine Beard. "And yet the differences between those two networks make everyday actions full of friction." 

Those friction points, Beavers and Beard said, impact basic tasks for employees at the facility such as file sharing, printing and collaborating over Microsoft Teams.  

Removing those obstacles so that employees at the facility can provide the best service possible for their patients has become their top priority. 

In July, the two executives pulled together industry and subject matter experts from across the DOD, VA and the private sector for a two-day visit to the facility to get a firsthand look at the day-to-day network integration challenges employees are experiencing.

"Day one was to feel the pain," Beavers said. "We toured the facility and the smart people got to see the day-to-day machinations that the crew members of the facility had to go through. Day two was to get after the technology solution." 

"We basically decided that, by and large, the technology solution exists," she said. "At this point, we have to figure out how we're going to implement it together as a team."

Both leaders have set an aggressive timeline for applying that solution. Their goal is to have both networks operating seamlessly by Christmas.  

"We've got tests going on this month," Beavers said. "We should finish that up in October; by the first of November, pilot. And then by December we should have it rolled out to the North Chicago facility for both sides."  

Both leaders say the implementation at the health care facility is critical for the roll-out of the electronic health care record in the coming months.

Once in place, the solution could also be a test case for solving network interoperability issues that persist across the DOD.

An aerial view of the Pentagon with the Washington Monument in the background.
Photo Shoot
An aerial view of the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., May 15, 2023.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. John Wright, DOD
VIRIN: 230515-D-KY598-1341

Beavers said similar friction points are common at tenant commands that rely on both DOD and civilian networks, not just health care facilities.  

"Across the department, there's a demand for this kind of integration and cooperation," she said. "We're putting quite a lot of money into the user experience within the Department of Defense, and I'm looking at this as one of the pilot efforts to figure out if this is a way that we can help improve the user experience across the board."  

Ultimately, both Beavers and Beard say the opportunity to positively impact the lives of DOD and VA employees and patients is exactly what drives them day-to-day.  

"I want to emphasize the jointness, between DOD and VA — our commitment to those who've served this country in uniform, their families, their caregivers and their survivors," Beard said. "That, to me, is what makes everything happen." 

"It has been very fulfilling, very gratifying to be working with DOD in this particular, unique location," he said. "And our organizations have high hopes for how this can expand our collaboration and service to veterans moving forward."

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