The Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced they are working together to improve IT system interoperability at the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center near Chicago – the only fully-integrated VA and DoD healthcare system.

The site is the only health care facility to serve both DoD and VA patients, which makes it difficult for the agencies to integrate the two information systems.

“You can imagine, it’s a workforce that views itself as a unified workforce … and so they shouldn’t know or care whether a particular piece of information is on a DoD network or a VA network,” said Dewaine Beard, principal deputy assistant secretary (PDAS) in the VA Office of Information and Technology (OIT). “And yet the differences between those two networks make everyday actions full of friction.”

In July, the VA and DoD brought together subject matter experts to visit the facility to get a firsthand look at the network integration challenges and determine a plan of action.

The two agencies found that the friction points impact basic tasks such as file sharing, printing, and collaborating over Microsoft Teams – but they are working towards a solution.

“We basically decided that, by and large, the technology solution exists,” said DoD Principal Deputy Chief Information Officer Leslie A. Beavers. “At this point, we have to figure out how we’re going to implement it together as a team.”

“We’ve got tests going on this month,” Beavers added. “We should finish that up in October; by the first of November, pilot. And then by December we should have it rolled out to the North Chicago facility for both sides.”

Both leaders said that finding a solution at this site is critical for the rollout of the VA’s Electronic Health Records Modernization (EHRM) program.

The new EHRM program aims to provide a seamless experience for veterans as they transition from receiving care from the DoD while on active duty, to receiving care at VA facilities. However, replacing an EHR system that was developed by the VA in the 1980s is not a simple task.

The EHRM program is currently in the middle of a “program reset,” while the VA and contractor Oracle Cerner focus on improvements at the five sites where the EHR system is currently deployed.

Notably, the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center is the only exception to the full-stop on EHRM deployment activities. The new EHR system is scheduled to go-live at this site in March 2024.

“We’re putting quite a lot of money into the user experience within the Department of Defense, and I’m looking at this as one of the pilot efforts to figure out if this is a way that we can help improve the user experience across the board,” Beavers said.

“It has been very fulfilling, very gratifying to be working with DoD in this particular, unique location,” added Beard. “And our organizations have high hopes for how this can expand our collaboration and service to veterans moving forward.”

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is MeriTalk's Assistant Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.