The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Social Security Administration have launched a new initiative that enables the VA to share medical records electronically with SSA to more quickly make decisions about disability claims.

For decades, SSA obtained veterans’ medical records through a manual process that included fax and regular mail. However, the VA says the new national initiative puts in place an automated process to obtain these records entirely through electronic sharing.

“VA’s partnership with Social Security will ultimately improve the quality of life for veterans and their dependents by enabling veterans to share their health information within a safe and secure health-related consumer application,” said VA’s Under Secretary for Health David Shulkin, MD.

David Shulkin, MD

Also See: VA joins NATE, as record sharing movement gains momentum

The VA shares health information with SSA via The Sequoia Project’s eHealth Exchange, a national network for secure sharing of medical records, which enables disability processing sites to receive the VA’s medical records electronically upon request.

“It took so long to get a disability determination from the Social Security Administration, primarily because of the slow, snail mail manual process of getting medical data,” says Michael Matthews, eHealth Exchange coordinating committee member and board chair for The Sequoia Project.

The new automated process basically has three steps:

  • SSA first obtains the veteran consent—good for one year from the veteran signature date.
  • SSA sends an electronic message to VA attesting to the consent, following national eHealth Exchange standards.
  • SSA then can retrieve the veteran’s continuity of care document in real time.

According to the VA, the ability to share records electronically with Social Security disability processors saves time and money for those veterans and dependents applying for benefits. While the agencies have been exchanging live data since October 11, they said it is “too early to determine an actual cost savings as the partnership is in its early stages of deployment.”
Matthews notes that the “process of going through a disability determination can be lengthy and the impact on veterans can be profound. However, he adds that “when the information is completely electronic, on average the turnaround time for disability determination is cut in half.”

The Sequoia Project contends that its eHealth Exchange is the “largest health data sharing network of its kind.” In addition to SSA and VA, the national network also facilitates data sharing by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services as well as the Department of Defense.

According to Matthews, DoD and the eHealth Exchange earlier this year expanded cooperation to enable electronic health data sharing for more than 9.4 million active duty service members, veterans, retirees and families served by the DoD’s Military Health System.

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