Department of Veterans Affairs picks up $233 million from Congress to fund VistA EHR upgrades

The money allocated to VistA comes within $6 billion in discretionary spending for projects including cutting its huge backlog of disability claims.
By Jack McCarthy
11:54 AM
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The Department of Veterans Affairs has received $233 million from the Congressional 2016 spending bill to help modernize its VistA electronic health record system.

The money allocated to VistA comes within $6 billion in discretionary spending for projects including cutting its huge backlog of disability claims and continuing construction projects.

This funding, however, will come with close oversight from lawmakers. 

The bill requires that either the CIO or Secretary of the VA submit plans to both the House and Senate appropriations committees for projects related to healthcare IT modernizations or systems development. From there, the committees must approve a request for a funding transfer if a project’s cost rises or falls by more than $1 million. And the VA must follow a list of instructions in using the funding to improve VistA.

The spending bill also allocates $2.7 billion, up $173 million more than fiscal 2015, for the Veterans Benefits Administration, with a focus on reducing the backlog of disability claims. A November fact sheet from the White House showed the backlog of disability claims that are older than 125 days are currently at 76,000 claims, down 88 percent from the March 2013 peak of 611,000 claims. Some of the funds will go to hire almost 800 extra staff members to handle the backlog and appeals.

Congress previously ordered the VA and the Defense Department to improve their EHR systems and develop better methods to share outpatient data among existing systems and achieve modern health IT standards, a mandate that led to the widely observed iEHR project that ultimately fizzled in early 2013.

Then in July of 2015, DoD went the proprietary route and awarded its massive modernization contract to Cerner, Leidos and Accenture.

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