Where did the money go? GAO report finds VA at high risk after billions invested in IT

A recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) on U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) found its IT systems to be severally outdated despite the organization spending billions of dollars on it. If so much was spent on IT improvements, why is the system still outdated?

The report traces the issues from 2010, highlighting the main challenges the VA faces in improving its IT system. The long line of issues includes the following results from GAO report:

  • February 2015: GAO officially labeled the VA healthcare systems IT department as high risk. Specifically, the VA had failed to update its outpatient appointment scheduling system, the electronic system that stored and retrieved information on surgical implants was not being developed, and system interoperability with the Department of Defense (DOD) was at an all-time low.
  • August 2015: GAO further investigated the interoperability between the VA and DOD electronic health record systems, finding they had moved forward with plans to improve interoperability separately.
  • September 2015: GAO stated that the cost estimating, system availability and system defects were in most need of attention for development. GAO also found that the VA had never conducted a customer satisfaction survey or listed goals for the course of improving the system.
  • May 2016: GAO found that VA officials had indicated problems such as IT limitations, manual processes and staffing challenges had delayed claims processing.

For each report conducted by GAO, the organization has made several recommendations to the VA, many going unheard. GAO further reminds the VA to update “its electronic health record system to increase interoperability with DOD, develop goals and metrics as a basis for determining the extent to which VA's and DOD's modernized electronic health records systems are achieving interoperability, address shortcomings with VBMS planning and implementation, and develop a sound written plan for deploying its modernized claims processing system."