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Joint Chiefs chair Dempsey: Pentagon, VA too slow in merging medical systems

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The Defense Department and the Veterans Affairs Department are moving too slowly to integrate medical records into a system that would speed up treatment for veterans, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Wednesday.

"[It] is clearly moving slower than any of us would like it to move," Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said at a veterans conference in Washington.

The Pentagon and the VA are merging medical records from the time a person enters the service to when he or she enters the VA medical system to enable doctors to better prescribe treatment.

A $1 billion program to create a new system, launched in 2008, was abandoned earlier this year for a cheaper program to merge the two existing systems. It is not expected to be completed until at least 2017.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki has been widely criticized for moving too slowly on the initiative, which would speed up treatment for veterans, especially those with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

Gen. Dempsey defended Mr. Shinseki and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, saying the delay stems from integrating two "significant" bureaucracies.

"If we don't get it exactly where we want it on [Mr. Shinseki's] watch, it won't be because of any lack of interest or enthusiasm, intellect or energy on his part," he said. "We have the right people in place, and I think we have the right support in place, but it's just taking longer than it should."

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