Information Technology and Veterans Affairs

Posted on June 20, 2017
Avid readers of the WatchBlog have seen some of our many posts on veterans’ access to health care and other support services, such as disability payments. Despite years of attempts to correct ongoing problems with health care and disability benefits, the Department of Veterans Affairs continues to struggle, in part because of issues with the information technology that underpins these vital systems—one of the reasons it’s on our High Risk list. In addition, VA has had other IT problems as well, such as slow consolidation and closure of its data centers. Today’s WatchBlog takes a closer look at some of these IT challenges. Old software and systems continue to plague VA Managing Risks and Improving VA Health CareAlthough VA has annually spent around $4 billion on IT over the past few years, it continues to lag in updating the IT infrastructure supporting its health care and disability benefits services.
  • In 2010, we reported that after VA spent $127 million and 9 years updating its 30-year-old medical appointment scheduling system, it decided to procure a new scheduling system instead of implementing the updates. And although we recommended six ways VA could improve this new system, as of May 2017 it had not fully addressed them.
  • We also found that VA had taken steps to implement a new system to process disability benefits, but that it didn’t know how much the system would ultimately cost or when it would be complete. In the meantime, VA continues to use a 51-year old Benefits Delivery Network—not due to retire until 2018.
In addition to the incomplete modernization efforts mentioned above, VA has made several efforts to link and coordinate its own health record IT systems with the Department of Defense’s. After our repeated calls for DOD and VA to eliminate duplication between their electronic health record systems, the VA Secretary recently announced that the department will adopt the same system that DOD is currently acquiring. Data center consolidation lags at VA One way VA could make its IT systems perform better is by consolidating some of its data centers. This is part of a government-wide issue: as federal agencies have modernized systems and put more services online, this increasing demand has led to a dramatic rise in the number—and costs—of federal data centers. To help address this, in 2010, the Office of Management and Budget launched an initiative aimed at reducing the number of data centers to improve efficiency and save costs. In addition, OMB created target metrics for agencies participating in the initiative, focusing on data center energy, labor, and storage costs. Yet, we found that VA’s data center consolidation and closure lag behind other departments. Specifically, VA had closed only 20 out of its 356 data centers through fiscal year 2015, and it hadn’t met any of the OMB’s nine target metrics for data center optimization. You can learn more about VA IT issues by checking out these results on our website.