House and Senate lawmakers want the Pentagon to know they expect it to make good on a February promise to furnish the Department of Veterans Affairs with complete medical records of separating servicemembers, and to provide them electronically by the end of this year.
The House Veterans Affairs Committee made its views known in a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Tuesday, about a week after the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee directed its own letter to the Pentagon chief.
"The members of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs echo the request of the Senate – that you work to strengthen DoD's existing partnership with VA as it improves its disability benefits claims system," the House lawmakers wrote.
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and Under Secretary for Benefits Allison Hickey have already testified to the Senate and House veterans' panels that the Pentagon has begun supplying the VA with complete and certified medical records, including those from Tricare providers. For now they are still paper records, but DoD has said they will convert to digital records by Dec. 31, 2013.
Hickey told the Senate committee in March that getting complete and certified medical records on separating servicemembers will dramatically speed up the time it takes to process VA disability claims.
"That is a game changer for us," she said, a phrase that House lawmakers quoted in their letter to Hagel.
"This agreement has been represented by VA as a 'game-changer' in enabling and improving its disability benefits claims system … We support this joint initiative, and want to ensure that the resources required to execute it remain in place," the Committee wrote.
The letter was signed by committee chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and ranking member Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine. All 25 members signed the letter.
Lawmakers are still waiting to see how the VA and the DoD will resolve the current problem of working with two different electronic systems. After initially planning to build a single system that would allow the two departments to easily transmit records, VA and Pentagon chiefs in January said they would drop that approach.
They now plan on developing a single electronic health record that will be accessible to the VA, regardless of differences in their systems.