Rep. Jeff Denham: A long overdue change at the VA is about to improve the lives of our veterans

There are nearly 20 million men and women who have proudly put on the cloth of this nation to defend our freedoms and protect our shores. They are our neighbors, our friends, our family members. They have stormed the beaches of Normandy, soldiered through the trenches of Vietnam, and endured the oppressing heat of the deserts of Afghanistan. They were promised the utmost care, resources and services, and yet when they returned home, they were met with an embarrassingly broken system.

For almost two decades, Congress has been imploring the Department of Veterans Affairs not only to deliver on our promise to veterans, but also to innovate and modernize. Now under new leadership, following years of frustration, corruption, scandal and abuse, the VA is taking initiative to deliver the care and services that our veterans are desperately in need of. VA Secretary David Shulkin recently announced that the agency plans to implement an electronic health record system, which will vastly improve efficiency, recordkeeping and the overall experience for veterans seeking care. While the transition to digital health records will be an ongoing process over the next months and years, we can finally look forward to a future of delivering on our promise to accessible, timely and quality healthcare.

Data security, efficiency and cost are all important considerations, which is why the VA has opted to use the electronic health record system that the Department of Defense currently utilizes. This decision comes nearly six years after the VA and DOD formed a joint office to assess purchase options for a common electronic health record system, which proved to be yet another waste of taxpayer dollars as the VA spent $564 million on this venture before reconsidering its data management. And since 2014, the VA has squandered more than $2 billion appraising various intra-agency modernization efforts. The VA’s decisive action to join the DOD in adopting the same electronic health record system not only demonstrates this administration’s resolve in caring for our veterans, but also its commitment to liberating the taxpayers from the bind of wasteful spending and abuse of taxpayer dollars.

The decision to integrate systems between the two agencies will not only ensure expediency in transferring and updating records as soon as possible, but it will also ease the transition for those retiring from active duty. Having one common system between these two agencies will be paramount to fixing the current lapse that too many of our veterans have experienced. The connection between the record systems at the DOD and VA will mean a seamless discharge from the armed services and assimilation into the VA. As servicemembers transition to civilian life, there are many challenges they face. Healthcare, and mental health services in particular, has proven to be a blind spot.

On average, 20 veterans commit suicide each day, and the risk of suicide amongst our veterans is 21 percent higher than the risk for civilians. Approximately one in every three Vietnam veterans have experienced Post-Traumatic Stress since returning to America. These are just a few of the staggering statistics that plague the distinguished community of brave men and women who fought for our freedoms. By moving the VA to a digital health data record system aligned with the DOD, we can ensure that our veterans have the resources and care network that they need, and we can continue working to decrease the number of veteran suicides from 20 to none.

While it was a long time coming and much overdue, I applaud Secretary Shulkin’s decision to put our servicemembers and veterans first by transitioning the VA to electronic health records. No longer will our veterans be faced with the headaches of red tape and bureaucracy in their transition to civilian life and entering the VA system. This is a landmark first step and we must continue to forge ahead with reforms to run a VA system that will truly serve those who so valiantly served their country.

Jeff Denham (@RepJeffDenham) represents California’s 10th congressional district. He served 16 years with the Air Force between active duty and reserve status, fighting in Operation Desert Storm and Operation Restore Hope.

Originally Published: June 19, 2017

Read the original op-ed in The Washington Examiner.