New digital medical records system bridges information gap for veterans

The Department of Veterans Affairs has rolled out a new digital medical records system designed to bridge the patient information gap between the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals. So far, the system has been adapted by the VA hospital in Spokane, Wash., though three more hospitals recently signed on.

Jeff Stoffer, Director of Media & Communications for the American Legion, joined America’s Work Force Union Podcast to discuss the new digital medical records system and what it will mean for veteran patient care.

He also discussed the VA’s handling of the COVID pandemic and counseling opportunities for war veterans suffering from PTSD and depression in the wake of America’s pull out from Afghanistan.

An easier way to access information and treatment

VA Secretary Denis McDonough was interviewed as part of the American Legion’s podcast during its national convention earlier this month. McDonough was interviewed by a panel of Afghanistan veterans and provided some meaningful insights into the new digital medical records system, Stoffer stated.

The new system joins medical records between the Department of Defense and the VA hospital system to make it easier for veterans and medical personnel to access medical information, particularly when it comes to proving disability. The new technology uses mobile technology and apps to create a central information resource.

At the time of McDonough’s conversation, 600 Department of Defense medical centers had signed onto the technology, but only one VA hospital — though three more recently joined.

The new technology will make data handling and treatment programs much easier to manage, Stoffer said. It is a massive change for the better when it comes to the medical treatment of veterans.

How COVID has affected the VA

The VA was one of the first hospitals to mandate that all its workers become vaccinated. So far, 88 percent of VA employees are vaccinated — but that still leaves about 46,000 staff members nationwide who have not yet received the vaccine. Anyone who interacts with veterans will be required to become vaccinated by no later than Oct. 8.

The VA has done a good job of handling the COVID pandemic from the beginning, Stoffer said. The American Legion is deeply invested in ensuring the VA has everything it needs to handle the situation.

Roughly 60 percent of VA beds are now taken up by COVID patients. There has been a big uptick for veterans with COVID. The American Legion is watching these numbers closely and cautiously, Stoffer said.

Counseling and treatment programs available for suffering veterans

Many Afghanistan veterans are feeling concerned, isolated and disappointed in the wake of America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, Stoffer said. McDonough indicated the VA was prepared for this moment, Stoffer stated. The VA has opened up counseling programs, including peer to peer counseling.

Calls to the VA’s veteran crisis line are up 30 percent, whereas texts have increased 30 percent and chats by 70 percent, Stoffer reported.

There are 3,600 American Legion posts actively involved in Buddy Checks — where veterans call other veterans to check on their mental health.

There are a number of therapeutic programs available to help veterans suffering from PTSD, including Service to Harvest, a farming therapy program. Many veterans have also taken to riding motorcycles through wind therapy programs, Stoffer said.


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