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VA CIO Roger Baker resigns - UPDATED

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Veterans Affairs Department Chief Information Officer Roger Baker announced his resignation in a Feb. 15 email sent to VA information technology staff.

In his announcement, Baker says he doesn't yet know when his final day will be; he is likely to stay on at least through the end of this month in order to be a witness at a Feb. 27 House Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing on the VA and Defense Department decision not to develop an integrated electronic health record system.

Baker's resignation notice comes shortly after the secretaries of the DoD and the VA announced the end of iEHR development. An insider who spoke on condition of anonymity said Baker's departure is voluntary and not directly tied to the iEHR decision, although the rolling back of a project identified closely with him was a factor. "He's exhausted," the insider said.

Defense meanwhile has already released a request for information on third generation EHRs, stating that it plans to buy a new EHR to replace its legacy systems, including the Armed Forces Health Longitudinal Technology Application, more commonly known as AHLTA.

Baker's departure is set to occur months before a planned wider rollout of the $537 million Veterans Benefits Management System, a paperless benefits management processing system currently installed in 20 of 56 regional offices. Its development has been problematic.

During a Jan. 30 call with reporters, Baker attributed problems experienced in the regional offices with VBMS to the simultaneous implementation on the same infrastructure of a separate customer relationship management system application for call centers. The call center application and VBMS access the same data, Baker said, but the department has since separated implementation of the two systems, he said.

"We've had no performance issues on VBMS since we did that separation," Baker said.

VBMS problems have persisted, the insider said. We've asked the VA to respond to specific allegations and will update when we can get further information.

UPDATE 12:50 p.m.: The Veterans Benefits Administration responded with a statement that the number of regional offices utilizing VBMS now stands at 20, with the offices in Oakland, Calif., and San Juan, Puerto Rico, having gone live Feb. 11.

It didn't respond directly to question we posed about an assertion that only 10 percent or fewer of adjudicators in a regional office with VBMS actually utilize the system. Claims "pending prior" to the date VBMS is turned on continue to be processed in paper, the statement says. "Ultimately, the paper claims will be completed, and all newly identified claims will be processed electronically," it adds.

In response to a question about whether scanning documents into VBMS has halted, the statement says it has not. "A recent IT functionality adjustment to the VBMS system interrupted the uploading of documents for a short period of time; however, that issue has been resolved and the scanning and uploading of documents continue at full capacity," says the VBA.

It is true, the VBA says, that adjudicators "may require the use of legacy systems" in order to process claims even after VBMS has been installed in a regional office.

"Ultimately, VBMS will replace all legacy systems for claims processing," the statement says.

For more:
- read Baker's resignation announcement

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