VA hasn't determined what work related to VLER will be done under the T4 program or other VA and DoD contracts, said Jo Paiva, executive director for VLER. (Michael Loccisano / Getty Images)
The Veterans Affairs Department is turning to companies on its $12 billion information technology contract to help develop the Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record, an initiative to provide veterans and service members with instant electronic access to their health and benefits information and other services.
Last July, VA awarded 14 contractors, including CACI, Harris Corp. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise Services LLC, a spot on the department's Transformation Twenty-One Total Technology, or T4, program. VA awarded SAIC the 15th and final spot on the T4 contract last fall.
"I'm sure they're chomping at the bit to get their VLER work," Joe Paiva, executive director for VLER, said about vendors on the T4 contract. "T4 is a very competitive environment."
Under the five-year indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity task-order contracts, vendors will provide program management and strategy planning, systems and software engineering, and other support, VA said.
VA hasn't determined what work related to VLER will be done under the T4 program or other VA and DoD contracts, Paiva said. "That [work] will be put out for solicitation for all the T4 vendors, and it will be a full and open competition."
For months, the contract has been the subject of multiple bid protests, including one filed last year by tech vendor Standard Communications Inc. in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. VA has been cleared of any wrongdoing during the awards process, pending a final decision in April from the Government Accountability Office whether to reconsider an earlier bid protest that was denied.
But that hasn't swayed VA's plans to shift work for VLER to its multibillion-dollar T4 contract.
For now, contracted work for VLER will continue under two blanket purchase agreement contracts that VA awarded to Systems Made Simple and CACI in September 2010. The contracts — worth $61 million and $91 million, respectively — have not reached their ceiling amounts, Paiva said. CACI's work includes consolidating service members' medical records into an electronic database available to VA, DoD and private health care providers.
He said VA and DoD are able to transfer money between themselves and jointly fund projects, such as VLER, regardless of who awards the contract.
VLER's next major milestone will come this summer when VA and DoD decide how to expand health information exchange pilots nationwide.
Nearly 39,000 veterans in 12 regions across the country — including Indianapolis, Richmond, Va., and San Diego — have signed up to have their health information shared electronically among the VA, DoD and private health care providers.
When participating veterans receive care, their physicians can request their laboratory results and other health data using the Nationwide Health Information Network (NwHIN), a project led by the Health and Human Services Department to provide a secure, standards-based method of sharing health information over the Internet. However, veterans must first agree to have their health information shared.
VA expects the number of organizations using the NwHIN to exchange health data to increase this year following HHS' decision to remove certain participation requirements. Since January, HHS' Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT no longer requires nonfederal agencies to have a contract, grant or cooperative agreement with a federal agency to participate in the NwHIN health data exchange, according to VA.
Since 2009, VA and DoD have been expanding the health component of the VLER program. As VLER evolves, participants will be able to share and access their personal, health and benefits information.
Today, veterans can view their VA medical appointments, laboratory results, allergies and some portions of their DoD military service information by creating an online account at www.myhealth.va.gov. VA has a disclaimer warning vets about work underway to upgrade the website that could cause user delays. The online portal is what VA envisions as the virtual access point where veterans, service members and their dependents can obtain their health and administrative information throughout their lifetimes.
"The way to build VLER to last isn't to stand up a huge new IT system and call it the VLER system," said VA Chief Information Officer Roger Baker.
Baker considers VLER to be the guidance and governance road map for ensuring that VA and DoD systems can feed information to the patient or the health care provider.
As part of the VLER project, VA is developing an electronic system for processing claims benefits, and intends to proactively gather veterans' military information from DoD to begin the claims process, Baker said. Vets can now print their discharge papers and separation documents from www.myhealth.va.gov rather than having to track down copies.
VLER developments may seem relatively small, but they have been critical to the overall success of the program, Baker said. For example, VA plans to use DoD's electronic data interchange personal identifier, or EDIPI, as its main identifier for veterans. The 10-digit number service members receive to identify them upon entering the military will remain with them for life.
"That is incredibly impactful for what VLER is, and yet it's one of those building blocks ... down in the foundation of VLER," he said. "Pull it out, [and] VLER collapses because now we don't know exactly who we're talking about."