Rep. Welch pushes electronic records bill to improve veterans’ health care

Vermont’s director of veteran services Richard Reed, left, Rep. Peter Welch and Bob Nicodemus, who works with disabled veterans,  voice support for the "21st Century Health Care for Heroes Act."

Vermont’s director of veteran services Richard Reed, left, Rep. Peter Welch and Bob Nicodemus, who works with disabled veterans, voice support for the “21st Century Health Care for Heroes Act.”

Rep. Peter Welch visited the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Montpelier Monday to champion a bill aimed at improving access to health care for military veterans. And the Vermont congressman is not alone in his support of the measure.

The legislation, termed the “21st Century Health Care for Heroes Act,” was one of nine bills introduced last week by an 81-member, bipartisan group of congressmen, known as the “Problem Solvers.”  The bill would connect electronic health records at the Department of Defense with those at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“If you’re active duty in the military, you get a medical record. The day you leave, you become a veteran, and you’re eligible to get veteran administration benefits and the most important benefit among them, of course, is medical care,” Welch told a group of reporters on Monday. “The Veterans Administration is having an enormously difficult time getting the military person’s record from when they served in active duty.”

Richard Reed, Vermont’s director of veteran services, said that this disconnect between health records systems at the two departments often delays care for veterans with disabilities.

“We can’t get the medical records, and it drags on and on,” Reed said. “There have been cases that have taken a couple of years … If there’s a compatible system, then that record transfer should be virtually instantaneous.”

Bob Nicodemus, Vermont adjutant and service officer for the 501(c)(4) Disabled American Veterans, said this time lag for transferring records is a major issue because doctors won’t treat veterans for many ailments without records to substantiate their claims.

“This is keeping our veterans from getting the benefits they deserve,” he said.

Reed and Welch said the gap between the two systems is especially difficult for veterans claiming disability due to chronic problems, like knee or back injuries, because those injuries aren’t as apparent as a gunshot wound.

Welch said the money has been allocated to correct this problem, and the two departments have agreed to connect the systems. But after kicking this can down the road for 15 years, Welch said, it’s time for congressional action.

“The Department of Defense and the veterans administration have been trying to work this out, but they haven’t succeeded,” he said. “This legislation memorializes the agreement they made (and) that Congress is absolutely insistent with the force of law that there be this interoperability.”

The four-page bill can be viewed in full here.

Andrew Stein

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