VA’s community care program is a brand new technology horror show

Matt Saintsing
March 19, 2019 - 11:58 am
ProPublica obtained an independent review showing VA's private care program has tech problems.

ID 17575170 © Hannu Viitanen | Dreamstime.com

The VA has just a few more months to finalize regulations for a new private health care program, but an independent review shows the agency is in troubled, if not familiar, waters with a new tech platform. 

According to the review obtained by ProPublica, the IT infrastructure could rattle medical care to the tune of 75,000 veterans a day. 

The VA has different community care options, the most well-known being VA Choice, which came online in 2014. The VA MISSION Act collapses VA Choice and VA’s other community care programs into one IT system, but for that to happen each system needs to feed into a larger one. To do that, the agency needs different tech platforms to pull data from multiple places.

Based on a two-week “discovery sprint” where reviewers spoke to VA employees, congressional aides and health care experts, U.S. Digital Service found the tech tools are so faulty that it “goes against the spirit of the MISSION Act to improve the veterans experience and quality of care.” 

Part of the problem is getting the data spread across different systems in VA to one place where it can be used to connect veterans to private care. 

“Much of the data necessary to determine eligibility is currently housed across several legacy VA systems that don’t interoperate, creating an inefficient and highly manual determination process,” the report reads. 

House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mike Takano (D-Calif.) called the review “incredibly alarming.” 

“USDS raises credible concerns that Community Care should have a veteran-centric approach, but despite these critiques, VA appears to be ignoring the problem or at least is unwilling to revisit its approach,” said Takano. 

“VA’s history of failed IT systems shows that it cannot move forward with this IT implementation without addressing these root problems.” 

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He added that the committee would hold a hearing “to demand answers from VA about the status of system development.” 

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This is far from the VA’s first issue with implementing new technology. 

Student veterans last year had delayed and inaccurate housing stipends from their GI Bill educational benefits. Also, the VA is undergoing an ambitious revamp of its health records, which has resulted in increased costs.  

RELATED: VA committee member says 'slow and steady' on antiquated VA electronic health-records process

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