American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 28, 2012 – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta welcomed Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki to the Pentagon yesterday for the latest in a series of regular meetings the two secretaries have held on issues of common interest to both departments.
The meeting included a discussion with disabled veterans, two of whom are on the U.S. Paralympic team, about their experiences as they left active service and transitioned to veteran status.
The Paralympic athletes told the two Cabinet members how their respective departments’ adaptive sports programs helped them to recover from their injuries and gave new purpose to their lives after the military.
“It is clear that there is a lot of good work being done to help our service members have the smoothest transition possible to veteran status and civilian life,” Panetta said. “But there are still too many stories of programs that are poorly connected between our departments and that are time-consuming and plain confusing for our service members and veterans.”
Shinseki said he and Panetta are committed to continuing the progress DOD and VA have made.
“The vision Secretary Panetta and I share is to provide an integrated, seamless experience to our people across their lifetime — from when they raise their hand to take the oath, to when they leave active service and join the veteran ranks, to when they are laid to rest with final honors,” he said. “Over the past three years, VA and DOD have made significant progress, but more work remains.”
In their meeting, Panetta and Shinseki focused on five areas in which the two departments have joined efforts on behalf of the nation’s service members and veterans: the Disability Evaluation System, electronic health records, transition programs, joint pharmacy initiatives and recovery coordination for the wounded, ill and injured.
The two secretaries said they were pleased with the status of plans to implement President Barack Obama’s directive to develop a new model for the Transition Assistance Program to ensure that all service members are career-ready when they leave the military.
They also discussed improvements to the Integrated Disability Evaluation System as a result of $400 million recently added to the Defense Department budget over the next five years and VA’s commitment to increase the number of personnel supporting administration of the system.
With more than 24,300 service members currently being evaluated for disability ratings through IDES, officials said, the secretaries stressed the importance they attach to shortening the time service members spend waiting for their ratings before they can complete their transition from active duty to veteran status.
Panetta and Shinseki also discussed steps forward on electronic health records, noting that the interagency office established by the two departments to lead the way in building the joint integrated electronic health records system now has new leadership.
The secretaries also received an update on development of the graphical user interface program, in which they learned that doctors at the James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center at North Chicago now can view both VA and DOD patient records simultaneously on a single monitor.
The Lovell Center is a first-of-its-kind partnership between VA and DOD to provide integrated care to service members and veterans in the same facility, officials explained. It has been a testing ground for the departments’ efforts to deliver a fully integrated electronic health record for all service members and veterans.
Officials said Panetta and Shinseki plan to meet in Chicago in May to visit the Lovell Center and to review progress on deliverables the two departments have committed to achieve by the end of the year, including:
– A detailed implementation plan for the revised transition assistance program;
– Spurring development of electronic transfer of patient files to reduce processing and mailing costs and disability evaluation processing times; and
– Finalizing a contract for joint pharmacy capability at the Lovell Center.