Does Information Technology Help Veterans?

The National Center for Veterans’ Analysis and Statistics most recent veteran population projections hover around 22.2 million people, 45 percent of which are age 65 or older. Of the total veteran population only 38 percent are enrolled in the Veterans’ Health Administration, yet the total number of dependents and survivors who have

claims to VA benefits or services is nearly 25 percent of the total U.S. population.

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki has been pushing for accelerated information technology as the solution to claims backlogs and paper health records that easily get lost and misplaced, but it isn’t as simple as it sounds:

  • Only about 13.6 percent of veterans have tried to utilize the internet to seek information about benefits or services.
  • Only 1 percent of all veterans are able to access their Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record online.
  • Flagship programs such as “My Health E Vet” report only 3.2 percent usage and are hopelessly difficult to operate for even the technologically savvy, much less the 65 and older crowd.
  • VA facilities treat 5.4 million unique patients every year, and there are more than 8.5 million veterans enrolled in the Veterans Health Administration, yet the VA maintains electronic medical records for only 6.8 percent of possible Veterans Health

The integrated Electronic Health Records developed by the VA and Department of Defense for implementation by 2017 has been projected to cost $8 to $12 billion.  Actual implementation required the formation of an Interagency Programs Office (IPO) and  an additional $753 million.  This was all the result of a public law which both established the IPO and set an implementation date of September 2009.  Of course, they weren’t able to come to a workable conclusion or meet the deadline, so it’s been relegated to an advisory panel, a joint committee, and eventually it’ll be up to Shinseki and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to come to a final decision.

So we’ve established that vets don’t use health information technologies that much, but bureaucrats keep charging ahead with little concern for veterans” needs.


Comments (12)

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  1. Dallas says:

    Given the issue of lost records and backlogs, however, what might be a more innovative solution? Should we work to make existing programs more user friendly or should we instead go back to the drawing board entirely?

  2. Tad Finster says:

    Perhpas veterans would use the technology more if it was earier to use.

    A friend of mine has had terrible experiences with the VA hospitals. It seems a little IT on the backend would streamline the system, even if it isn’t necessary on the frontend. Given our fiscal climate, maybe Panetta and Shinseki will decide not to implement the system.

  3. Matthew 'Scrubs' Daily says:

    The entire VA needs an overhaul. Let’s start from lego #1 and rebuild the entire system one lego at a time. Only then, could I justify spending billions on the VA system. As it is, the disability claims system is a complete mess. This proposition for IT sounds like a brilliant plan to waste some more taxpayer money, make a few special interests rich, and in the end, benefit view veterans, whom this country owes ultimate respect to.

  4. Kyle says:

    Honestly, I would get rid of the whole thing. Retain evaluative services in order to determine the severity of disability.. but otherwise, burn it all to the ground.

    Reducing the overhead costs of maintaining 150 hospitals, 900 outpatient clinics, and lord knows how many administrative buildings alone would mean huge savings.

    After severity of disability is determined, establishing a flexible or health savings account and handing those over to vets would have a number of benefits. Let them go to private hospitals, and let inefficient federal employees compete in the market for jobs.

  5. Neil says:

    The government is more concerned with doing politically correct things than efficient things.

  6. Corey says:

    …and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to come to a final decision.


    I think the switch to electronic record keeping is likely inevitable and certainly a good thing. Electronic/internet resources may be underutilized now but I’m sure usership will grow as veterans are increasingly “children of the digital age.” The transition isn’t that expensive in the context of the overall budget, and starting the transition now ensures the system will be as effective as possible as usership grows. Part of this budget also is likely for training programs to increase usage of already existing electronic resources.

  7. Joe Barnett says:

    Leaving aside seniors, do just 1 percent of vets have access to their EMRs because they don’t have internet access (hard to believe) or because they don’t know about it? (Also, can they schedule medical appointments online?)

  8. Anthony Ray says:

    I also think that there ought to be a system that enables more competition which will result in better efficiency and quality of care for vets. I have a good friend, USMC vet, who died in part to the poor quality of medical care he received.

  9. Kyle says:

    Joe, we’re working on publications explaining that very issue as we speak.

    Anthony, I’m sorry to hear that. The Veterans Health Administrations does have a few things it does well. However, it is a training grounds for doctors who eventually move on to better facilities. Their efficiency rates for physicians and general staff are about 20 percent below market averages.

  10. Gabriel Odom says:

    Some of these ideas sound very good actually. I particularly like the idea that we allow private hospitals to bid for VA hospitals and clinics. This would ensure that the veterans receive prompt, quality care, and the VA itself saves money by using market competition.

  11. Corey says:


    “Their efficiency rates for physicians and general staff are about 20 percent below market averages.”

    This is interesting, could you elaborate?

  12. Kyle says:

    Efficiency rates for VHA staff are typically below average. I’ve spoken to physicians about it, and they argue (perhaps rightly so) that a lot of med students do their residency at VAs, so physicians at the VA spend more time than average training new doctors.

    Regardless, 12 hour wait times in emergency rooms… It’s unreasonable.

    From the ’70s to the ’90s it was absolutely awful.. It didn’t really change until about ’94 when they finally brought in an outside CEO named Kizer (no pun intended, that’s his real name) Who really turned things around. By the early 2000’s the VHA was doing reasonably well compared to most hospitals. They’ve been slipping since the start of the war though.