VA tops federal agencies in proposed IT spending for 2014

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The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' $152.7 billion budget request for 2014 includes $3.683 billion for IT projects, the largest increase in IT spending among government agencies, the Federal Times reported this week.

It's proposing to spend $155 million on the Veterans Benefits Management System, the department's new paperless processing system; and $15.4 million for the Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record, which will allow health-information sharing with the U.S. Department of Defense, the Social Security Administration and other healthcare providers. It also plans to further develop the Warrior Support Veterans Tracking Application; a clinical data repository and a VA/DoD Bidirectional Health Information Exchange, according to Healthcare IT News

But more than half of the VA's IT budget would go toward operating and maintaining existing systems and infrastructure, according to the Times. The agency is requesting $2.2 billion for expenses such as telecommunications, software licenses and hardware maintenance.

The agency's documents pointed to "aging hardware, demands for mobile computing, new employees and VA facilities, more automated data activities and data exchanges, and complex security requirements" as driving up costs.

Some members of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs raised concerns about the VA's spending, particularly in light of the massive backlog of claims and the decision to scrap plans to build from scratch a joint electronic health record system with the DoD.

Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) expressed support for IT spending, but called for greater transparency from the VA. "We cannot afford to get this wrong," he said, according to Healthcare IT News.

DoD Secretary Chuck Hagel told a House Appropriations Committee hearing this week that not all the money poured into the joint iEHR project was wasted, but said his agency must do better. He said of the project, "I didn't think we knew what the hell we were doing."

Hagel reportedly is among the powerful backers within the DoD for adopting the VA's EHR system, the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA).

Meanwhile, the claims backlog includes more than 875,000 still pending, percent of which are older than 125 days--the VA's goal processing time. Funding for the paperless claims system is four times higher than that set aside for 2013 ($38.5 million).

To learn more:
- here's the Federal Times article
- find the Healthcare IT News story

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