VA secretary warns replacement about healthcare IT challenges

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Veteran Affairs (VA) secretary, James Nicholson, who will resign on Oct. 1, has reported on the current healthcare IT challenges to House Veteran Affairs’ Committee, such as reducing the backlog of disability claims and easing the transition of service members between the Department of Defense (DoD) and VA medical systems.

Nicholson has led the Task Force on Returning Global War on Terror Heroes since the poor conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center were revealed. Under Nicholson’s direction, the Task Force has urged the VA and DOD to improve the interoperability of their EHR systems to enhance the delivery of care.

Nicholson has issued directives to tighten data security and centralize the IT structure and authority of VA under the department of the chief information officer.

This past week, Nicholson told lawmakers that the VA plans to reduce the number of days it takes to process a disability claim from 180 to 145 in the next year.

The Committee praised Nicholson’s efforts for IT adoption throughout his tenure.

Nicholson still lamented the current state of healthcare IT within the VA. “The claims backlog is an issue that has bedeviled me and many that have come before me,” he said, especially because of the increasing number of claims due to the Afghan and Iraq Wars.

Nicholson also suggested the creation of a new VA position, assistant secretary for acquisition and construction, to manage the magnitude and complexity of the department’s modernization of its buildings and new facilities.