Tester sets deadline for improved military health records
Senator backs bill to get Defense Dept., VA on same page, reduce claims backlog
(U.S. SENATE) – Senator Jon Tester is supporting legislation to force the Defense Department and the VA to establish a system that shares military medical records and reduces the veterans claims backlog.
Each year, 150,000 service members transition from active duty to veteran status, but the two departments’ health records remain incompatible. The inability of the Defense Dept. and the VA to easily share medical records prevents many veterans from getting the benefits and medical care they need in a timely manner – or sometimes at all.
Tester’s bill requires the Defense Dept. and VA to use standardized forms for health data within six months of his measure being signed into law. It also requires the two departments to be able to exchange real-time data within one year and to provide service members with an electronic copy of their health records by June 2015.
“We’ve been spinning our wheels for over a decade, and it’s time for some accountability to get veterans the benefits they need,” said Tester, Montana’s only member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “My bill will let the Defense Department and VA know that the status quo is unacceptable. We need a medical records system that meets the needs of our military men and women in the 21st Century.”
Tester said a modern health record system would also ensure service members with mental health care issues experience a more seamless transition to the VA and cut into the veterans’ claims backlog. Tester pushed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki on the backlog earlier this year.
The Defense Dept. and VA worked for years to develop a shared records system, but have abandoned those plans and say they are now looking at commercially available software.
Tester’s bill, the Servicemembers’ Electronic Health Records Act, will be considered by the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. It joins other Tester legislation to help Montana’s and the nation’s veterans, including his Rural Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act that will strengthen VA mental health and telemedicine initiatives.