The Department of Veterans Affairs will need more money for IT modernization than proposed in the administration’s budget request for fiscal 2018, Secretary David Shulkin said.
IT modernization is the only area of several prioritized in VA’s proposed 2018 budget for which it will ask for additional money, Shulkin said Wednesday in a press conference at the White House.
In prior speaking engagements, Shulkin has said he will make a decision before July for the future of the VA’s electronic health record system, the Veterans Information Systems and Technology Architecture or VistA.
“That is either going to look toward outsourcing our current system to a commercial vendor or picking a system that is a commercial off-the-shelf system, and to get VA out of the software business,” he said. “And that will require an initial capital investment that’s not in our fiscal year budget.”
Shulkin affirmed that tech modernization is one of the most expensive priority items in the fiscal 2018 budget, despite the White House’s requested $500 million reduction in spending on information technology systems at the department.
“We have to modernize all IT systems to make them commercially viable, cloud-based solutions to the maximum extent possible,” he said.
Shulkin listed a number of problems during the briefing that related to the outdated, inefficient IT systems that the VA has relied on for decades, like medical inventories or the VA’s electronic loan-reporting system. What this means for the VA is that, “without funding for a new system, the VA would have to revert to paper-based manual loan system that would reduce the number of veterans served from 90,000 per year to only 12,000 per year,” he said.
“We cannot afford to let that happen, because veterans could be at risk of foreclosure or even homelessness. That’s a risk that we’ve identified,” he added.
The secretary outlined the poor condition of the legacy IT systems that the VA is currently using, noting that “75 percent of our IT budget is just maintenance in sustaining our infrastructure, because our legacy systems are old and are at risk of failing.”
The failure of such systems would cripple the VA’s operations, according to Shulkin.
VA is working to replace the systems, but the process could take years. Until then, the antiquated scheduling and financial networks of the VA will continue to contribute to increased wait times for veterans and their families, the secretary said.