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Thursday, July 12, 2018 11:40 am

Banks to chair new House VA subcommittee

BRIAN FRANCISCO | The Journal Gazette

This story has been corrected to reflect that the project is expected to cost $15.8 billion over 10 years.

U.S. Rep. Jim Banks has been chosen to lead a new House subcommittee that will act as a watchdog for the nearly $16 billion upgrade of medical records by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The House Veterans' Affairs Committee voted unanimously Thursday morning to establish the Subcommittee on Technology Modernization, appoint Banks, R-3rd, as its chairman and name two other Republicans and two Democrats to the panel.

Banks, who represents a dozen counties in northeast Indiana, is an officer in the Navy Reserve and a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

“Service members and veterans deserve a seamless, lifetime medical record and an electronic health record system that supports the highest quality care," he said in a statement released after the VA Committee meeting.

" ... I have no illusions about the challenge confronting VA in this monumental undertaking. I am committed to asking the tough questions and challenging the bureaucratic status quo. Veterans and taxpayers expect nothing less,” he said.

In an internet stream of the meeting, VA Committee Chairman Phil Roe, R-Tenn., said that Banks "will bring valuable experience" with military health care to the new subcommittee. 

Roe announced last month the pending creation of the subcommittee after VA contracted with Cerner Corp. of Kansas City, Missouri, to bring VA electronic medical records systems in line with those of the Defense Department. VA provides health care to 9 million military veterans.

Roe said Thursday that the project is expected to cost $15.8 billion over 10 years, making it VA's largest-ever information technology undertaking.

"And the American people rightfully expect Congress to safeguard their investment," he said.

Describing VA's track record for rolling out information technology projects as "troubling," Roe said, "It is incumbent on this committee to conduct aggressive oversight and hold VA leadership accountable."

Minnesota Rep. Tim Walz, the ranking Democrat on the VA Committee, said the new subcommittee "is a golden opportunity for Congress to exert its oversight authority, to make sure that we're not only making sure that this record gets there for our veterans but we're being those watchdogs for the taxpayers. And this is just a really smart way to go about it."

Joining Banks as members of the subcommittee are Republican Reps. Jack Bergman of Michigan and Mike Coffman of Colorado and Democratic Reps. Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania and Scott Peters of California.

The Subcomittee on Technology Modernization becomes the VA Committee's fifth subcommittee.