Groups fear veterans will be lost in move to paperless health records

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Veterans groups are worried that the Veterans Affairs Department's plans to transition to paperless records do not fully address the workload and scope of current records.

At a Dec. 4 hearing of the House Veteran's Affairs Committee, groups raised concern over methods the VA will use to cut down its backlog of disability claims filed by veterans, which have reached more than 900,000 claims, while the VA said the framework for transition was in place.

Richard Dumancas, deputy director for claims for the American Legion said his organization has deep concerns "about the lack of a clear plan forward regarding the scanning process, one of the most critical components" to a paperless system clear of bottlenecks and frustration.

Officals from the VA and Defense Department expressed confidence in the VA's choice of technology and ability to handle the task.

Scanning may not be the primary focus of the VA's efforts because "a scanned document is not necessarily optimal for claims processing," said Alan Bozeman, director of the Veterans Benefits Management System program office. Bozeman said the VA has two contracts in place with contractors to create electronic folders with veteran information and images that come from paper documents and other sources.

The focus will be on parsing out specific information needed to process claims as quickly as possible and that the VA is looking into multiple ways of doing this, eh added.

Jim Neighbors, director of the DoD/VA Collaboration Office for DoD, said the department will help VA develop a system that both can use to share information in real-time for historical records, electronic health information, pharmacy and medication data on shared patients, and the ability to share image files like radiology images and scanned medical records.

Such a system is an absolute requirement, said President of National Organization of Veterans' Advocates Michael Viterna, because most veterans have multiple claims being processed at the same time and in different stages. "In addition, an electronic record system can include sufficient redundancies to virtually preclude lost or misplaced files as is currently a problem."

Rep. Jon Runyan, (R-N.J.,) the chairman of the disability subcommittee, said these agencies must find a way to ensure that systems communication and that no records are lost. "A single record or notation can be the difference in whether a veteran's disability claim is granted or denied" said Runyan.

For more:
- go to the hearing webpage (prepared testimonies and archived webcast available)

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