Military Times

Tech team targets Pentagon-VA record sharing

A team of high-tech experts who helped fix the White House's website after its botched rollout in 2013 is working at the Pentagon with a new mission: fixing the broken system for transferring military health records over to the Veterans Affairs Department.

The team of 16 people from the U.S. Digital Service, a recently created division of top software engineers, set up an office inside the Defense Department on Monday, said Navy Cmdr. Bill Urban, a Pentagon spokesman.

It's part of a broader effort to step up the military's computer literacy and cyber skills, and the first task will be "working on seamlessly transferring health care records" between the two agencies.

The USDS was created last year and included many of the same software engineers who did the triage work and saved the website. The White House said it is an effort to apply the same type of technology skills to other government agencies.

"Bringing the U.S. Digital Service to the Pentagon will help us surge on some of the most vexing problems and give DoD access to some of the best engineers in the world," said one senior defense official.

For years veterans have complained about the government's inability to share basic health care information that is required for former service members to get timely access to their benefits. That can result in gaps in health care and flawed decision making by health care professionals.

An effort to create a joint Defense Department-VA system for electronic health records cost more than $1 billion before it was abandoned in favor of a plan that would create separate systems that could communicate with each other. That system has not yet been developed.

The ill-fated effort continues. The latest defense bill from the House of Representatives includes $233 million for electronic health records modernization.

The website was the centerpiece of the health care reform law that President Obama signed in 2010. The site's launch in October 2013 was marred by technological problems that made it impossible for many people to sign up for health insurance and fueled criticism of the controversial law.

The site now functions well and has helped millions of people sign up for health insurance, federal officials say.

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