NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2006 -- (Senate - November 15, 2005)
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Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I rise today to thank my colleagues, the senior Senator from Virginia and the Senior Senator from Michigan, for their hard work in getting the fiscal year 2006 Defense authorization bill to the floor and for including in the bill two amendments I offered. These amendments will directly affect the quality of health care we provide our Nation's armed forces.
As many of you know, the Department of Veterans Affairs, VA, has created one of the most effective electronic medical records systems in the Nation. Despite a number of problems at the VA--from funding shortfalls to delayed benefits--the electronic medical records system is one of the VA's great successes and serves as a national model. Unfortunately, the Department of Defense, DOD, has not created a similar system for members of the military.
Despite a significant expenditure of time and money, the Department of Defense appears to be far from completion of its system, the Composite Health Care System II, CHCS II. Consequently, we have soldiers who have honorably served their country leaving the military and entering the VA system, and yet there is no easy way to transfer their medical records to the new health care system. This lack of compatibility results in severe inefficiencies and delayed benefits for our veterans. This is a problem that the national veterans' service organizations have highlighted over the years, but despite their efforts, the Department of Defense is still lagging behind the VA.
The Government Accountability Office, in a report released last year, found that one of the primary reasons for the Defense Department's severe delays in producing a compatible medical records system is the lack of strong oversight of the process. My amendment is an effort to implement some oversight. Pursuant to my amendment, 6 months after enactment of the bill, the DOD would be required to report to Congress on the progress being made on the development of the CHCS II system, the timeframe for implementation of the system, a cost estimate for completion of the system, and a description of the management structure used in the development of the system.
I also want to thank Senators LEVIN and WARNER for accepting my amendment requiring that DOD report to the Senate and House Armed Services Committees about its pandemic flu preparedness activities. When pandemic flu strikes, many of our military and civilian personnel will be at high risk for infection, particularly those deployed in Asia where avian flu poses the greatest current risk; military and civilian personnel in this country also will likely be involved in domestic response activities in the event of a pandemic. Our Nation's security is contingent on a healthy military, and we must ensure that these members will be protected.
It is Congress's duty to oversee the delivery of health care to our Nation's soldiers, and these amendments will help in our efforts to exercise this oversight. I hope to work with the conferees on this authorization bill to retain these provisions in conference.