Obama announces new record system for vets
By Kimberly Hefling
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Thursday promised a more efficient record system to ease delays in health care for wounded veterans as the government copes with more than 33,000 military personnel injured in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Under the new system, an electronic record would follow a service member in the military and then later in the Veterans Affairs Department’s medical system.
There is currently a six-month backlog in disability claims at the VA. Because the two agencies have different medical systems, veterans have complained about bureaucratic hurdles and long waits as they enter the VA system.
Recounting the hundreds of stories he said he heard from frustrated veterans unable to receive needed treatment, Obama said: "It’s time to change all that, it’s time to give our veterans a 21st century VA."
He said his new military and veterans affairs budget focuses heavily on more spending for diagnosing brain injuries and psychological disabilities that have gone untreated.
"We have a sacred trust with those who wear the uniform of the United States of America, a commitment that begins with enlistment and must never end. But we know that for too long we’ve fallen short of meeting that commitment. Too many wounded warriors go without the care that they need," Obama said.
More than 1.6 million troops have deployed in support of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Of those, more than 33,000 have been wounded on the battlefield. The VA has said that more than 400,000 recent veterans have sought some sort of care — including mental health care — at a VA facility since 2002.
Obama made the announcement with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. He said he’s asked them to develop a unified system, and they’ve taken the first steps to do that.
The electronic record keeping system would handle military service members’ administrative and medical records from the day they enter service and ensure that those files are transferred automatically to the VA when they leave active duty.
As the president tackles the larger problem of health care for all Americans, he is proposing massive spending to enable providers to keep patients’ records on computer networks, a development that Obama says will cut costs in the long term and reduce medical errors.
Obama has also been pushing for increased spending for veterans, claiming those who have and are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are not getting the care they deserve. The president’s plan was praised by veterans advocates.
"Historically, the onus for enrolling in the VA system has fallen on the service member once they come off active duty," said Ray Kelley, legislative director for AMVETS.
The program introduced Thursday will be part of overall Defense Department spending of $47 billion on health care in the next fiscal year, the White House said.
Over the next five years, the White House said, spending for veterans affairs was set to grow by $25 billion.
There are more than 23 million veterans in the United States, and nearly 5.5. million people sought health care at a VA facility last year.