VA has yet to implement new IT system for Family Caregiver Program

A GAO report contends that the agency’s current system has limited reporting capabilities and cannot provide system-wide data.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is still working on implementing a new information technology system that fully supports services for family caregivers of post-9/11 veterans, as required by law.

The Family Caregiver Program's current IT system—the Caregiver Application Tracker (CAT)—has limited reporting capabilities and cannot provide system-wide data, according to the Government Accountability Office.

As a result, the VA “doesn’t have the data it needs to determine whether the program is appropriately staffed and participants are monitored,” found a GAO audit. That will “make it harder for VA to determine the number and type of staff it will need once the program expands.”

The VA MISSION Act of 2018 requires the expansion of program eligibility to veterans of all eras contingent on implementation and certification of a new IT system.

In 2011, the Veterans Health Administration established the Family Caregiver Program at each of its VA medical centers nationwide and implemented CAT to facilitate the exchange of information about approved caregivers between VAMCs and other VHA entities. But, there have been ongoing problems with CAT and a replacement IT system.

“VHA and the Office of Information and Technology (OIT) have been working jointly on projects since 2015 to improve and replace CAT,” states GAO’s report. “However, two of these projects were terminated without delivering viable software improvements or a replacement system. According to two independent assessments, these prior efforts lacked both effective leadership and implementation of the processes needed for requirements management.”

Auditors quote VA officials as saying that a third project, in which OIT and VHA have begun to acquire and implement a commercial product to replace CAT, “will take steps to avoid the issues that have impacted its past efforts.”

Nonetheless, GAO reported that the initial replacement for CAT is not expected until late October 2019. In addition, while the initial deployment and additional releases are expected through the summer of 2020, auditors are concerned that the VA has not yet fully committed to a date by which it will certify that the new IT system fully supports the Family Caregiver Program.

“Until the system is implemented and certified, the expansion of eligibility for the Family Caregiver Program will be delayed,” according to the GAO.

In the meantime, auditors recommended that the VA take the following three actions:

• Collect complete staffing data for the Family Caregiver Program that includes Caregiver Support Program Office funded staff, VAMC funded staff, and staff that assist the program as a collateral duty at each VAMC.

• Establish a process to ensure that the Family Caregiver Program staffing data that are collected and reported to the Caregiver Support Program Office are accurate.

• Identify and use an interim method to collect data from VAMCs on their completion of required quarterly contacts and annual home visits with caregivers and veterans that can be used until a new IT system is implemented.

In its written comments to the GAO report, the VA concurred with all three of the audit’s recommendations.

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