Overhaul of VA’s medical records still on track to finish in 2028 despite delays, officials say

Members of the 121st Air Refueling Wing Maintenance Squadron perform an inspection on a KC-135 Stratotanker at Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base, Columbus, Ohio, Oct. 16, 2021. (Staff Sgt. Wendy Kuhn/Air National Guard)


Despite serious errors with the department’s electronic records overhaul so far, Veterans Affairs officials told lawmakers on Thursday they are confident in the new system and their ability to finish the project on time in fiscal 2028.

“We will get this effort back on track,” VA Deputy Secretary Donald Remy said during testimony before the House Appropriations Committee. “This will succeed because success is non-negotiable. It’s a must-do.

“We will create the first electronic health record system that allows veterans to access their healthcare records in one place, from the first day they put on their uniform to the last day of their lives.”

Remy’s statement was met with skepticism from members of the committee, who noted years of missteps and failures with the medical records effort.

“We’ve had a long string of leaders at the VA tell us that the intention is to finish in 10 years, that the intention is to be transparent, that the intention is to not affect patient safety. And none of that ever happens,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., chairwoman of the committee’s panel on veterans issues.

In 2018, President Donald Trump’s administration announced plans for a 10-year, $16-billion overhaul of VA’s medical records with the goal of putting the veterans system on the same platform as the Department of Defense. The idea was to provide a single, flexible and lifelong records system for troops and veterans, a goal of outside advocates for years.

But in March, after more than three years of work, department leaders halted the program after uncovering serious problems — including potential patient safety issues — with the roll out.

That delayed planned deployment of the new system — Cerner’s Millennium software — at several sites this year, and raised questions about the long-term viability of the project.

Remy acknowledged the patient safety issues — issues like missing medical information or potential medication conflicts — presented a serious threat, but he also said none of the problems resulted in harm to any patients at the initial rollout sites.

He insisted those have been addressed through a department strategic review, although lawmakers said they will request more detailed listings of the issues and corrections in coming weeks.

Remy also said the initial problems, while serious, are also typically seen in private-sector implementation of new electronic medical records systems.

The deputy secretary also defended the Cerner system, noting it has been successfully implemented in numerous private-sector health care systems. VA leaders have said despite not being involved in the last administration’s decision to buy the system, they do not have any plans to abandon it.

VA officials have already moved more than 24 million veteran health records into the new system. All VA facilities were expected to be using the system by the end of 2028, and Remy said he is still focused on that as a completion date.

“As I’ve looked at the program and examined the challenges that we’ve had and looked to how we plan to move forward in the future, I’m confident that we can meet that 10-year timeline,” he said.

The department is planning a revamped roll-out schedule, to start with sites in two regional networks next year. They include sites in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

VA officials also said they are unsure if the new deployment schedule will increase the costs of the massive project. Remy said a full cost estimate is expected next year, a timeline that brought criticism from several lawmakers.

Wasserman Schultz said her panel is planning more frequent oversight hearings on the issue in coming months, to ensure that work is continuing as planned.

“The only way we’re going to ensure we’re made aware of the comprehensive information necessary for our oversight is to have these hearings more frequently,” she said.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.



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Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.