- The House Appropriations Committee recently released its fiscal year (FY) 2018 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill, allotting $78.3 billion in discretionary funding for VA healthcare modernization and improvements.
The $78.3 billion in discretionary funding comes as part of the total $88.8 billion provided by the legislation. Total, the legislation includes $182.3 billion in both discretionary and mandatory funding for VA — up $5.3 billion from FY 2017.
“This funding will help address many of the problems currently facing the VA, and provide for better and increased access to care for our veterans,” the committee announced.
Additional funds will provide resources for VA priorities including suicide prevention, claims processing, homeless prevention and care, opioid addiction, and medical research. The bill will also dedicate $69 billion to VA medical care to provide treatment for about 7 million patients in FY 2018.
“Our servicemen and servicewomen need the tools to do their jobs, and also need the peace of mind that their needs and the needs of their families are being taken care of here at home and around the world,” said Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen in a public statement. “Just as importantly, our veterans – who have sacrificed so much to protect our way of life – deserve the full health services and benefits they have earned.”
$65 million in funds will go toward the modernization of VA’s new Cerner EHR system to match the Trump Administration’s request.
“This will ensure the swift implementation of the plan for the VA to use an identical electronic record system as the DOD,” stated the committee. “This will also ensure our veterans get proper care, with timely and accurate medical data transferred between the VA, DOD, and the private sector.”
VA confirmed its decision to select Cerner to provide its commercial EHR earlier this month to mirror DoD’s decision to opt for a nearly identical Cerner platform with Military Health System (MHS) GENESIS.
Secretary David Shulkin stated in a public announcement that VA clinicians would have a role in the Cerner EHR system development and implementation process. The system will be designed with the goal of functioning as an integrated EHR along with DoD’s MHS Genesis to ensure interoperability between the federal agencies.
The legislation will also use $50 million of the grant for digital scanning of health records and overtime pay to expedite disability claims processing in order to cut down on the backlog keeping the 312,000 veterans in need of a final decision on their claims from receiving adequate compensation.
In April, VA began the arduous process of digitizing all veteran health data from older, inactive paper health records in an effort to modernize claims processes to speed up the process for veterans in need of compensation.
Digitizing data through a paper extraction process will ensure a veteran EHRs are accessible through VA’s computer system to increase efficiency and processing time for when filing benefits claims. With these funds, VA can afford to sponsor the timely completion of the paper extraction process.
“In addition, the bill continues rigorous reporting requirements to track each regional office’s performance on claims processing and appeals backlogs,” the committee wrote.
Medical facility construction and cemetery expansion will receive $752 million in funding.
The bill also meets mandatory funding requirements for veteran disability compensation programs, education benefits, and vocational rehabilitation and employment training.
Finally, the bill will reserve $70.7 billion in advance fiscal year 2019 funding for veterans’ medical programs in accordance with the Trump Administration’s request.
“This funding will provide for medical services, medical support and compliance, and medical facilities, and ensure that our veterans have continued, full access to their medical care needs,” wrote the committee. “The bill includes $107.7 billion in advance funding for VA mandatory benefit programs, as requested in the President's budget.”