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Vermont Public Radio - Welch Says Veterans Need Better Access To Health Records

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By Bob Kinzel

Congressman Peter Welch says the federal government is failing to meet some critical health care needs of veterans across the country.

For several years, the Veterans Administration has been a leader in the use of computerized medical records. But they're running into a problem.

When they try to obtain the electronic records of veterans who are seeking medical care, or who are applying for disability benefits, their system isn't compatible with the system used by the Department of Defense.

This means many veterans need to obtain paper copies of their medical records from the Defense Department and it's a process that can take months to complete.

Richard Reed is the director of the Vermont Office of Veterans Affairs.

"The thing that has slowed down claims the most is obtaining service records on the veterans. This is the 21st century this is driving a 21st century solution to an old problem," said Reed. "There's no reason why one computer system can't talk to another."

Bob Nicodemus is the State Service Officer for the Disabled American Veterans of Vermont. He says the current situation creates some serious problems for veterans in need of immediate medical care.

"If a doctor gets a patient in the emergency room on the table and he's been out of the military for a year but it clearly indicates that there was something else before they can't even look at it," said Nicodemus. "The guy says, 'well I was treated for it back two years ago or something,' and they have no way of telling that. They can't tell what medications this man's been on or anything else until they have something to go by."

Congressman Peter Welch says the DOD and the VA are aware of the problem but are moving very slowly on a solution.

"The kind of hassles this has created for our veterans trying to get the medical attention that they need, trying to have an adjudication of their disability benefits basically trying to get good care is brutal and it's also unconscionable," said Welch.

And Welch has introduced a bill to require the two agencies to solve this problem now.

"This is going to be solved someday, it should have been solved yesterday not tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow," said Welch. It's raising it to a higher level of concern and it's an explicit statement by Congress about its will that the force of law be behind the obligation to do this."

Welch's bill is being supported by a new bi-partisan coalition of House members who are committed to ending the current gridlock in Congress on many key issues.

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