The Department of Veterans Affairs electronic health records overhaul has been underway for five years, but events coming in 2023 could decide whether the effort still has any future.

The 10-year, $16 billion health records modernization project started in 2017 under then President Donald Trump and was touted as a way to provide better care to troops and veterans throughout their lives.

Veterans health records have been shifted from an aging, internal VA records system to private-sector software maintained by Oracle-Cerner that is compatible with military health records.

The goal is to allow VA and the Department of Defense to more easily share health care information, providing seamless service to individuals as they leave the military and transition to civilian life.

But implementation so far has been problematic. VA has paused its planned rollout of the system to new sites after numerous issues with program use at the first few medical centers. In September, the head of the Veterans Health Administration told lawmakers that problems with the new system have encouraged some staffers to quit.

In response, VA Secretary Denis McDonough vowed to improve training and minimize problems with the system, and ordered a halt to all new records system deployments until June 2023.

That move risks pushing the timeline for deployment throughout VA past 2027, a move that government watchdogs have warned could add hundreds of millions more to the final price tag.

But McDonough has said the pause is needed to ensure the system is working properly and that patients aren’t put at risk.

Meanwhile, several lawmakers — including key Republican members of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee — have said they now question if the records system is still worth the cost. They’re expected to hold hearings next year on progress with the system, and ask whether continuing to spend money on the overhaul is worthwhile to taxpayers.

So far, McDonough has insisted it is. But he also left open the possibility that may change.

“We’re going to stay on this thing to make it work, because the idea is so profoundly in the national interest,” he told Military Times in November. “But if it’s not workable, we’re not going to just spin our wheels.”

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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