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Pentagon to seek new vets record system

Lolita c. Baldor And Pauline Jelinek, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Pentagon has decided to buy a new computerized health records system to be able to better share and merge its data with the Department of Veterans Affairs, but officials cautioned that it was part of a "long-term modernization" effort and would not help ease the current backlog in VA disability claims.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered the Defense Department to get bids for development of the new system, the department said in a statement Wednesday.

The statement said the new system — along with efforts already underway to speed up service to veterans — will improve continuity of care but does "not address the problem of the existing VA backlog."

Frank Kendall, the Pentagon's undersecretary for acquisition, told reporters Wednesday that the Defense Department and the VA are continuing to work to integrate their records and are making progress. But he acknowledged that the two agencies differ on the separate matter of how best to modernize their computerized systems.

He said the VA would likely have preferred that the Pentagon adopt the VA system. And he added that, depending on the bidding process, the military could eventually end up with a system similar to the VA.

Frustrated by the continuing backlog, members of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs wrote to President Barack Obama on Wednesday asking him to help end "the bureaucratic back and forth" between the Pentagon and VA regarding health records. The letter said the VA can't keep a promise to shorten the claims review period because of the length of time it takes to get records from the Pentagon.

Hagel and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki were meeting later Wednesday with senators to talk about progress toward reducing the backlog.

Kendall said that at this point the Defense Department is responding within 45 days to VA requests for records to determine disability claims.