The Department of Veterans Affairs and Defense Department soon will have the same medical data, ending a turf battle between the agencies to achieve what Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said will be “seamless” information sharing on veterans’ health.

Shulkin said having an electronic health record, or EHR, that follows a veteran from the time he enlists could address the problem of veteran suicides.

“My top clinical priority is to reduce veteran suicide,” Shulkin told reporters last week during a White House press briefing. “One of the areas that we’ve identified is a gap in the transition, when you leave the military and all of a sudden you no longer have that structure that you were used to, and what happens to you before you get enrolled into either VA health care or community health care.”

He added:

That no longer is going to happen. We’re going to have a seamless ability to make sure that information is there. So to a veteran who’s experiencing emotional disorders, when they reach out for help it’s going to be easier to get them help. For other people who have physical problems, that same information is going to be there, so you can develop a coordinated care plan.

The VA and DOD currently have separate but interoperable systems, which means the two systems are designed to share electronic health records. The change is that now both departments will share the same records system.

For the past 17 years, members of Congress, and seven blue ribbon commissions, have called for modernizing and integrating the Defense Department and VA medical records system, Shulkin said. This will allow a “seamless link between the departments without the manual or electronic exchange of information,” he said.

Shulkin told The Daily Signal during the briefing that governmental turf wars delayed a more immediate fix.

“One of the things that we’re doing differently in this administration is that we’re essentially eliminating some of the silos and turf battles,” Shulkin said. “If you put the veteran and the service member first, you would come to the conclusion that we’ve come to today. But nobody likes to give up power and control over their system.”

He said his department is proud of having developed the first major electronic medical record system:

This was done over 30 years ago by brave clinicians who went on their own and developed this. So giving this up, I do not want to underestimate how difficult that will be for people in the Department of Veterans Affairs. Change is not easy. But when you’ve had that for 30 years, it’s going to be really hard. So this is a major decision for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The VA is moving away from its Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture, or VistA, developed in the 1970s, and will adopt the DOD’s Cerner Millennium MHS GENESIS system. In doing so, the VA is forgoing a competitive bid process.

“I’m not willing to put this decision off any longer; I think 17 years has been too long,” Shulkin said. “When DOD went through its decision on electronic medical records and its acquisition process in 2014, it took them approximately 26 months to do this, and I will tell you, in government terms, that’s actually a pretty efficient process. I don’t think we can wait that long when it comes to the health of our veterans.”