WASHINGTON — House lawmakers plan to form a new oversight panel to track Veteran Affairs officials’ work on modernizing their electronic health records system, saying that Congress needs to closely monitor the years-long process.
House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Phil Roe, R-Tenn., had mentioned the idea in recent hearings before the panel, but on Wednesday formally announced the process to add the new subcommittee. The full congressional panel will take up the proposal at a July 12 meeting.
“As the department embarks on the country’s largest EHR overhaul, we must ensure veterans and taxpayers are protected during the transition,” Roe said in a statement. “Having personally gone through a transition to a new health record system in private practice, I know how much potential there is for a project like this to be a huge and expensive disruption.
“Congress has a responsibility to conduct rigorous oversight throughout every step of the process.”
The announcement comes a month after VA officials finalized a contract with the Missouri-based Cerner Corp. to bring veterans’ electronic medical records in line with Defense Department systems over the next decade.
Conflicting VA and military electronic health files have been a source of controversy for years, with both departments promising new initiatives to improve record sharing but delivering partial results.
Last summer, President Donald Trump touted plans to bring together the two systems — through a non-competitive contract worth upwards of $10 billion — as a major advance in his promise to reform and modernize VA operations.
But outside advocates raised concerns with the implementation of Cerner’s new MHS GENESIS records system at initial military sites earlier this year, prompting questions about how well the new system will work with VA’s massive patient databases and sprawling medical system.
Committee officials said the new oversight panel will help monitor those concerns. Ranking member Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., praised the effort as critical to ensuring success of a host of VA information technology initiatives.
“Whether it is preventing disruptions in patient care, protecting the privacy of veterans, or ensuring American taxpayer dollars are invested responsibly and in a way that will improve healthcare delivery for veterans, it is important Congress is well-suited to hold VA accountable every step of the way,” he said in a statement.
The electronic medical records overhaul had been a top priority of former VA Secretary David Shulkin, before he was dismissed by Trump in March over agency infighting.
Administration officials have said since then that they remain committed to the project.
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.