- The Washington Times - Friday, April 10, 2009

President Obama on Thursday introduced a plan to streamline the medical records system for wounded veterans, vowing better treatment for the more than 33,000 military personnel injured in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The plan calls for an electronic database designed to easily transfer the medical records of military personnel from the Defense Department to Veterans Affairs (VA). A lack of a compatible computer system has led to a six-month backlog in providing VA services.

“We have a sacred trust with those who wear the uniform of the United States of America, a commitment that begins with enlistment and must never end,” Mr. Obama said at a White House event to introduce the plan.

“But we know that for too long we've fallen short of meeting that commitment. Too many wounded warriors go without the care that they need.”

The proposed “Joint Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record” program would create a unified lifetime medical records system for military personnel and veterans that would be used “from the time they enlist until they are laid to rest,” the president said to the applause of about 120 people at White House event.

Joe Violante, the national legislative director for Disabled American Veterans, who was at the White House event, said Mr. Obama also reiterated a promise to get the additional money for veterans through advanced appropriations so officials could plan better.

“I'm really excited to see him keep the promise,” said Mr. Violante, a retired Marine. “I think he is really paying attention to what the needs are.”

VA and Defense officials for years have acknowledged the problem, and more than two years ago initiated a program called “seamless transition” to assist seriously injured troops who are leaving active duty and filing medical claims with the VA.

The new program will be part of the Defense Department's health care budget of $47 billion for fiscal 2010, which begins Oct. 1, the White House said.

The VA's overall budget is set to grow by $25 billion during the next five years, the White House said.

Mr. Obama said the funding increase is the biggest in the past three decades and that the additional help will go to those “who gave up so much but signed up to give more.”

More than 1.6 million troops have deployed in support of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

There are more than 23 million veterans overall in the United States, and almost 5.5. million people sought health care at a VA facility last year.

Mr. Obama, flanked by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki at the White House event, said the military men and women he met during his visit this week to Iraq inspired him “all over again.”

The president mentioned two soldiers whom he met in Baghdad - Spc. Jake Altman and Sgt. Nathan Dewitt - both severely injured but returned to battle.

“Today, they're both back alongside their fellow soldiers in their old units,” Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Shinseki testified on Capitol Hill in January that he was working to reduce a six-month delay in paying veterans' disability claims and that a paper-less system would not be in place before 2012.

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