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VA under fire for 'screw-ups' related to electronic records modernization roll-out

The VA has obligated $9.42 billion so far to replace an old IT system to maintain veterans' health records. The rollout hasn't been smooth, though.

WASHINGTON — The health and well-being of nine million military veterans are at stake.

According to a new report, problems with the electronic records modernization that the Department of Veterans Affairs has undertaken are making things worse for vets.

The VA has obligated $9.42 billion so far to replace its four-decade-old IT system to maintain veterans' health records — and to deploy its new system — Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture, or VistA.

But the modernization roll-out has been anything but smooth.

"This is VA's fourth attempt at replacing the legacy system, and the implementation so far has been fraught with major issues," said Carol Harris with the Government Accountability Office in a hearing last week before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

The GAO reports that many users weren't adequately trained to use the new system. 

Users also told the GAO that the new system had decreased morale and job satisfaction and increased burnout among VA staff.

And the GAO said just 6% of users agreed that the system enabled quality care.

"These scores are among the lowest we have ever seen on a major federal IT acquisition," said Harris.

The VA's Office of Inspector General last July uncovered 149 cases of patient harm linked to the new system.

Lawmakers made their unhappiness very clear.

"There's been a number of screw-ups," said the panel chairman, Sen Jon Tester (D-Montana).

He continued: "We need to know exactly where the hell we're at and where we're going and what it's going to cost, and when we can look for a timely delivery of a thing that we have been talking about for 20 years. We've all got to step up to the table."

The VA did not disagree that there is a problem.

"We acknowledge that there have been challenges with our efforts to date. As we work through the challenges our commitment remains unwavering," said Dr. Neil Evans with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The GAO made 10 recommendations to the VA on how to improve things. The VA concurred with all of them.

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