Military health surveillance site down for most of January

"Technical difficulties" kept a military health surveillance website down for most of January, Nextgov reports.

The website of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center--which provides weekly summaries of flu cases within the U.S. Department of Defense, as well as historical data on diseases and major medical events--was purposely taken offline, according to Navy Capt. and AFHSC Director Kevin Russell to "resolve its issues."

The site also hosts the Global Emerging Infections Surveillance and Response System, which tracks diseases in 35 countries.

Remington Nevin, M.D., a former Army epidemiologist, criticized the site closure to Nextgov.

"The mission of AFHSC is to provide timely data and analysis to military health decision makers and, by extension, to their civilian overseers and the public," Nevin said. "The seeming acceptance of a month-long outage in AFHSC's primary method of dissemination of this information is inconsistent with this mission, and suggests a troubling absence of transparency within the military public health community."

According to Russell, AFHSC posted a telephone number and email address to help users obtain necessary materials and information.

The DoD could not give specifics about why the site went down.

Just last week, FierceHealthIT reported about a software glitch on an online U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs portal exposed the personal information of veterans to anyone who could log onto the system, according to VA officials.

"During the limited timeframe, some Veterans and Servicemembers who had registered and logged into eBenefits were able to see a combination of their own information as well as data from other eBenefits users," Genevive Billia of the VA wrote in an emailed statement to FierceHealthIT. "VA took immediate action upon discovering the software defect and shut the eBenefits system down in order to limit any problems and prevent further exposure."

Billia added that VA conducted a full review of the software issue and reinforced its security posture, after determining that the defect had been remedied and the portal was functioning properly.

"All eBenefits functionality is now available to use. We offer our sincere apologies to any Servicemember, Veteran or family member impacted by the software defect and the downtime," Billia said.

Billia also wrote that the VA's independent Data Breach Core Team (DBCT) is reviewing the issue and "believes a relatively limited number of Veterans have been affected," but initial estimates indicate up to 5,351 users were impacted.

The VA introduced eBenefits--which aims to enable quicker processing of disability compensation claims--last summer, and urged veterans and their representatives to use it to get speedier decisions to help reduce the backlog of claims. The system is used by both the VA and the U.S. Department of Defense. 

To learn more:
- read the Nextgov article