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Pentagon, VA to combine health data

    Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki talked with Irma Pennington of San Antonio on Friday at Fort DeRussy while visiting the Golden Age Games.

Merging the medical records of active-duty U.S. military personnel and veterans into a single computerized health system from enlistment to death will make it easier for them and their families to get help, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki said Friday in Honolulu.

The Kauai-born Shinseki, in Honolulu to kick off the National Veterans Golden Age Games sponsored by the VA, said he and Defense Secretary Robert Gates first began talking about merging the records as they stood in line getting ready to be sworn in as Obama Cabinet members in January 2009.

"It’s taken us two years to get here. That tells you how difficult this is. The two largest departments, with a lot of culture and a lot of pride, and two good electronic health records (systems), maybe the best in the country, they just don’t link very well," Shinseki said.

"We’ve committed to going to a single, common joint platform for electronic health records, and I’m very pleased, as I know (Gates) is, that we’ve been able to arrive at this point."

The integration will allow the electronic records of a person serving in the military to easily make the transition into the VA’s medical system when he or she leaves the service.

"We avoid some of the gaps in information that we currently face," he said.

The move is one of several that suggest the two departments are moving closer to unifying parts of their sprawling health care systems, which handle more than 15 million active-duty troops, retirees, veterans and their families.

Veterans say that under the current system, they sometimes have to carry paper copies of their health records from their military service to their new doctors at veterans hospitals. Some also complain that records transferred electronically get lost because the two computer systems are not always compatible.

Proponents of the consolidation say it will speed care for veterans and make it easier for data to be collected by researchers tasked with spotting health care trends.

The merger is expected to take several years.

More than 900 military veterans 55 and older from 44 states, Guam and the Virgin Islands are in Honolulu for the five-day Golden Age Games. They are vying for gold medals in 14 categories, from air rifle and dominoes to swimming and nine-ball pool.

The event, now in its 25th year, is held at a different locale in the U.S. annually.

San Antonio resident Irma Pennington, 55, had already won a silver medal in horseshoes by midmorning Friday.

"I do better with the shot put than this," she said, vowing to do her best to win a gold.

Because this is her first time participating in the games, Pennington’s airfare and a shared room at the Hilton Hawaiian Village are being paid for by the VA.

A registered nurse with 16 years of military service, Pennington uses a wheelchair because of injuries from a 1995 car accident.

After visiting Friday with veterans at the games at the lawn behind the Hale Koa Hotel, Shinseki traveled to Kalaeloa, where he toured the U.S. Vets Center for the homeless and at-risk with Gov. Neil Abercrombie and state homeless coordinator Marc Alexander.

Shinseki reiterated his department’s goal of ending homelessness of veterans by 2015 and said Abercrombie’s initiatives for addressing homeless issues fall in with that plan.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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