Two bills aim to expedite benefits for veterans

Citing frustration that veterans in New York wait on average 400 days for the start of benefits, Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) is pushing two bills to speed things up.

The Servicemember's Electronic Health Records Act of 2013, led by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), would require the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to implement fully interoperable electronic health record systems between the two agencies within one year of the bill's passage.

Rep. Christopher Gibson (R-N.Y.) has introduced a similar bill setting deadlines for interoperability in the U.S. House.

Schumer said he also backs the Claims Processing Improvement Act of 2013, introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), which would require hiring more claims processors and hold the VA accountable by requiring it to publicly report its monthly goals in reducing the backlog and progress toward those goals.

Schumer wants the two bills included in the National Defense Authorization Act legislation coming to the Senate floor in the coming weeks, according to an announcement.

The VA has been touting its progress in reducing its claims backlog. As of the beginning of August, the backlog had been cut to 496,000 claims, from 611,000 claims in March. The electronic Veterans Benefits Management System has been touted as key to reducing the backlog, but the IT workers on it were among those furloughed during the recent government shutdown.

To go fully paperless, the VA would need 4,000 more workers to scan its billions of pages of paper benefit claims, William Bosanko, a top executive at the National Archives and Records Administration, told a House committee earlier this year.

Since ditching the joint EHR project in February, the DOD has been looking at "off the shelf" enterprise EHRs including the VA-developed VistA solutions to replace its legacy systems. In an invitation to vendors it defines enterprise EHRs as "those product[s] or system[s] which provide a patient-centric, point-of-care system for use by clinicians and clinical staff throughout a patient's lifetime healthcare experience."

To learn more:
- find the announcement