VA refines scheduling contract timing, sees progress on broad tech front

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Stephen Warren, the chief information officer at the Department of Veterans Affairs, said Tuesday a final contract award for a new commercial scheduling system will likely happen in January and not by the end of 2014 as originally planned because of “an extensive amount of industry feedback” received on the system’s performance work statement.

2014_08_warren-stephen-121 Stephen Warren is the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Office of Information and Technology and CIO at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“Because we have so much feedback to consider before we can lock down our requirements documentation and post the solicitation, some small adjustments to our aggressive contract deadline are necessary,” Warren wrote in a blog post. “We now believe our request for proposals will come out in October, with an anticipated award of January.”

But a senior VA official, who spoke to FedScoop on background, outlined significant progress on a series of high-tech efforts designed to bring immediate relief to the difficulties that have plagued the agency’s operations and the ability of veterans to access care and services.

According to the official, short term improvements to the existing scheduling module in the Veterans Integrated System Technology Architecture, known as VistA, continue to move forward. “Clinical video teleconferencing, which is increasing access through automated Web-based interface, has deployed across all VA service networks,” the official said. “VA has also completed initial code development of a direct patient scheduling application, which is now moving to testing, compliance and production approval ahead of an anticipated May 2015 release.”

VA also recently completed the roll out of version 7.1 of its claims processing system called the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS). According to the official, VBMS has allowed VA to move to a paperless process and 90 percent of all claims under VA review now are in VBMS. New functionality includes the ability for authorized users to download multiple documents simultaneously and the addition of the ability to ingest Disability Benefits Questionnaires from Veterans Health Administration contractors and additional Veterans Benefits Administration contractors.

Release 7.1 development also included Digits-to-Digits (D2D) integration, which will provide Veteran Service Organizations with the capability to establish claims, enter contentions, upload electronic documents and create an eFolder, the official said.

“VBMS is an agile success story for VA, with new functionality being delivered to claims processors every 90 days,” said the official, referring to the department’s focus on agile development methods of creating and deploying software in smaller, more manageable chunks.

The VA also deployed its Enterprise Voice Services (EVS) initiative Sept. 19, launching the first full production pilot site at the Fort Harrison, Montana, VA Medical Center. EVS is focused on modernizing the VA’s aging private branch exchange (PBX) infrastructure, introducing a consolidated voice-over-IP (VoIP) platform served from VA’s national data centers.

“As one of the many VA efforts that are contributing to improvements in the way VA interacts with and supports our nation’s Veterans, EVS will not only provide enhanced functionality and reliability but will also serve to eliminate unnecessary duplication and driving down costs,” the official said.

Two additional EVS pilots comprised of more than 30 locations supporting VA medical centers in Charleston, South Carolina, and the VA Tennessee Valley Healthcare System are planned for this calendar year.

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Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Departments, Stephen Warren, VistA
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