Veterans Refute Obama's SOTU Claim

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OBAMA VETS

This story has been updated

For many Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, the exhaustive analysis of last week's State of the Union address failed to hold President Obama accountable for what they claim to be a glaring factual error contained in the speech.

Last Tuesday, Obama said, "Veterans can now download their electronic medical records with a click of the mouse."

It was a reference to the Blue Button Initiative, which launched in August 2010 as the product of a partnership between the Department of Veteran's Affairs and the Department of Defense, and allows veterans to access an online health profile.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, the program enables registered users of My HealtheVet to access "self-entered health metrics," including "blood pressure, weight, and heart rate." The online program rests on self-provided health data however, and does not provide a medical record, as the President claimed.

"You cannot download your medical record as it exists in the VA's actual database," Adam Bryant, who served in the Army National Guard in Afghanistan, told The Huffington Post. "You can only download what you put in, like demographic information and prescriptions you get through the VA."

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) issued a statement calling on the White House to "set the record straight."

"The President's comments are misleading to service members, veterans and the American public who now think that this system is in place and functional, while it is clearly not," IAVA's statement read. Veterans Today called the President's remarks "sketchy."

A spokesperson for the VA declined to comment on Obama's claim, but told The Huffington Post, "We're looking to provide as much information as possible and modernize the Blue Button program." To date, the White House has not responded to IAVA's statement.

Tom Tarantino, a former Army captain who served in Iraq and now works as the Senior Legislative Associate for IAVA, characterized the response from the veteran community as "a mix between morbid amusement and anger. There is disbelief that the White House was so careless and a misstatement of this caliber made it to the State of the Union," he said.

Joe Davis, a spokesman for Veterans of Foreign Wars, told PolitiFact Obama's statement was "kinda, sorta" accurate and added, "It all depends on your interpretation."

Today, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on these electronic health records, calling on the VA and the DoD to "remove barriers and improve efforts to meet their common system needs."

Many veterans claim rhetoric around this program has been misleading from the beginning, and have grown more concerned that the White House is complicit in mischaracterizing the benefits and online support available to veterans seeking to make sense of their health care treatment and disability claims.

For some vets, the statement also brings to light a broader issue within the VA: a lack of access to modern processing technology and the use of a paper-based system that blocks records sharing within departments at the VA and the DoD.

"We need a single source digital way for a veterans' information to exist and be visible between the VA and between the veterans," Tarantino said. "Technology integration within the VA is at laughable levels."

Today's GAO report reiterates this issue and highlights a consistent failure to deliver on planned updates to the system.

"The departments have been unable to articulate explicit plans, goals, and timeframes for jointly addressing the health IT requirements common to both departments' electronic health record systems," the report reads.

Tarantino blames this lack of innovation on the VA's insular tendencies as an organization. "They put out a weak request for proposal and they go to the Navy to develop a digital claims process. They're not talking to the professional sector. Google could solve this in a week," he said.

Peter Levin, chief technology officer at the VA and co-creator of the Blue Button told PolitiFact that progress is underway and they will continue to add new capabilities to the Blue Button site. "The things they can download today are the kinds of things you'd fill in when you go to see a specialist," he said. Levin added that vets' request will shape the information added to the system and said the VA plans to add information on allergies in March.

Bryant, who serves as IAVA's Membership Director, believes an update to the VA's processing system and access to more data will ease the burdens veterans confront upon their return from overseas.

"You're dealing with a bureaucratic paper based system for millions of veterans, that has barely changed since Vietnam. We're just looking for the VA to step into the 21st century," he said. "These folks put their lives on the line and could give so much more if they were just given basic support when they come home."

Around the Web

It's hard to top veterans' health care Vital Signs - MarketWatch

RealClearPolitics - Obama Signs Veterans Health Care Bill

Veterans Care - Health Care for Veterans