Veterans' Benefits at Risk : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Veterans' Benefits at Risk

By Declan McCullagh April 19, 1999

When we first met Joel Willemssen over a year ago, we took an instant liking to the guy. Heck, who can't admire a fellow who spends the bulk of his time telling turf-protecting self-important ass-covering bureaucrats that they're lying schmucks?

Oh, sure, we recognize that he might get a bit biased in his current job as the director of the US General Accounting Office's civil agencies information systems group. Like a cop who spends most of his time chasing after criminals and views everyone as a suspect, Willemssen probably gets a little down on everyone's Y2K progress. After all, he doesn't spend his time hanging around success stories.

Still, Willemssen's got a good nose for bureaucratic skullduggery, and in that spirit we give you the highlights of his testimony before a House Veterans' Affairs subcommittee last Thursday. The topic: the likelihood that the Department of Veterans Affairs can deliver both benefits and health care services after 1-1-00. Early signs aren't encouraging. VA hospitals aren't checking their equipment for Y2K-readiness, and the agency conveniently forgot to reveal that prescription-filling computers aren't ready.

"In brief, VA continues to make progress in its Y2K readiness. However, key actions remain to be performed. For example, the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) and Veterans Health Administration (VHA) have not yet completed testing of their mission-critical systems to ensure that these systems can reliably accept future dates--such as January 1, 2000. Also, VHA has not completed assessments for its facility systems, which can be essential to ensuring continuing health care. In addition, neither VA nor FDA have implemented our prior recommendation to review the test results for biomedical equipment used in critical care/life support environments.

"Further, VHA's pharmaceutical operations are at risk because the automated systems supporting its consolidated mail outpatient pharmacies are not Y2K compliant. Lastly, VHA does not know if its medical facilities will have a sufficient supply of pharmaceutical and medical-surgical supplies on hand, because it does not have complete information on the Y2K readiness of these manufacturers. It is critical that these concerns be addressed if VA is to continue reliably delivering benefits and health care...

"VA has been responsive to our recommendations. For example, VBA reassessed its mission critical efforts for the compensation and pension online application and the Beneficiary Identification and Record Locator Sub-System, as well as other information technology initiatives. It also reallocated resources to ensure that the Y2K efforts had adequate resources, including contract support, to achieve compliance. In addition, VBA completed a draft business continuity and contingency plan in January 1999 for its core business processes, as well as a related planning template for its regional offices...

"In addition to implementing our recommendations, VA continues to make progress renovating, validating, and implementing its systems. On March 31, 1999, VA reported to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that the department has renovated and implemented all of the mission-critical applications supporting its 11 systems areas. As shown in table 1, VBA has six of these areas, and VHA has two.

"Complete and thorough Y2K testing is essential to providing reasonable assurance that new or modified systems will process dates correctly and will not jeopardize an organization's ability to perform core business operations,s Because the Y2K problem is so pervasive, potentially affecting an organization's systems software, applications software, databases, hardware, firmware, embedded processors, telecommunications, and interfaces, the requisite testing can be extensive and expensive. Experience is showing that Y2K testing is consuming between 50 and 70 percent of a Y2K project's time and resources...

"As of March 31, 1999, neither VBA nor VHA had completed systems acceptance testing--which requires that each system be tested, including full forward-date testing, on a compliant platform--for all their mission-critical systems. Specifically, according to VBA officials, the agency had completed systems acceptance testing for half of its mission-critical systems-Insurance, Loan Guaranty, and Vocational Rehabilitation and Counseling. According to VBA's March 1999 draft test plan, systems acceptance testing of the Compensation and Pension and most of the Education systems was to start in mid- April 1999. One of the reasons provided to us by a VBA official for the late systems testing was that the IBM platform at its Hines, Illinois, data center was not made Year 2000 compliant until the compiler/6 was upgraded in February 1999. According to VBA, the Compensation and Pension and most of the Education systems will be future-date tested throughout April.

"In addition to testing of individual systems, end-to-end testing of multiple systems is also critical. End-to-end testing, as defined in our test guide, verifies that a defined set of interrelated systems, which collectively support an organizational core business area or function, continues to work as intended in an operational environment, either actual or simulated. For example, in order to successfully process a compensation benefit payment to a veteran, VBA's Compensation and Pension System must work correctly with its Beneficiary Identification and Records Locator SubSystem, Treasury's Financial Management System, the Federal Reserve System, and financial institution systems.

"VBA and VHA plan to conduct end-to-end testing between now and this July. VBA is defining end-to-end testing as verification that core mission-critical business functions, including benefit payments and vendor and payroll payments, process correctly. The interfaces between VBA's benefits system and Treasury's Financial Management System are to be tested in May. VBA also plans to test transactions that interface with VHA systems, such as information related to veteran eligibility. VHA is defining end-to-end testing as verification that core mission-critical business functions, including patient-care transactions and vendor and payroll payments, process correctly. Once these tests are completed,

"VA's facility systems are essential to the continued delivery of health care services. For example, heating, ventilating, and air conditioning equipment is used by hospitals to ensure that contaminated air is confined to a specified area such as an isolation room or patient ward. If computer systems used to maintain these systems were to fail, any resulting climate fluctuations could affect patient safety. Despite their importance, VHA has not yet completed its assessment of facility systems. As of February 28, 1999, VHA medical facilities reported that they had assessed 55 percent of their facility systems.

"More recently, VHA's Chief Biomedical Engineer told us that VHA medical facilities are not requesting test results for critical care/life support biomedical equipment; they also are not currently reviewing the test results available on manufacturers' web sites. He said that VHA's priority is determining the compliance status of its biomedical equipment inventory and replacing noncompliant equipment. The director of FDA's Division of Electronics and Computer Science likewise said FDA sees no need to question manufacturers' certifications...

"50 percent of VHA's prescriptions are filled by 7 CMOPs, geographically located throughout the United States. These facilities are supported by automated systems provided by one of two contractors--SI/Baker, Inc. and Siemens ElectroCom. For example, the [consolidated mail outpatient pharmacy] electronically receives a prescription for a veteran through the medical center...

"VHA has determined that the automated systems supporting its CMOPs are not Y2K compliant. Specifically, neither of the systems provided by their contractors are Y2K compliant. According to the Y2K coordinator for the SI/Baker facilities, failure to make the SI/Baker systems Y2K compliant may delay the filling of outpatient prescriptions. The SI/Baker systems are used by three of VHA's CMOPs--Hines, IL; Charleston, SC; and Murfreesboro, TN; they handle about 58 percent of all prescriptions filled by CMOPs.

"VA did not include the CMOP systems in its quarterly reports of mission-critical systems to OMB. According to VHA's Y2K project director, VHA considered the CMOP systems to be COTS products and, therefore, did not report them as mission-critical systems. Given the criticality of these systems to VHA's ability to fill prescriptions at the turn of the century, we believe VA should reassess this decision reporting CMOPs as mission-critical to VAtop management and OMB to help ensure that necessary attention is paid to and action is taken on them."

-- a (a@a.a), April 19, 1999


Okay,..I'm admitting this to be a stretch, but bear with me. I think it goes without saying that veterans' benefits are least on the minds of bureaucrats....fine to tell them during their service they are covered, but after?? Well, fella, there's this exception and that exception. (ranting mode enabled)

I have always felt it was slavery to go into the military or to submit to in point. My 22 year old nephew (a volunteer) is in the US army...goddess knows I tried to stop him, but he did it cos his mother wouldn't help him, and he felt his education and financial prospects as is were slim. (BE ALL THAT YOU CAN BE, baby, and we have college money for you, baby).

Six months ago my nephew became sick...he went the infirmary...they sent him problem...just a little cold. He could not complete his PT the next to the infirmary...NO problem...finally..he passed out, and his seargeant took him back and asked to speak to the son-of-a-bitch doctor of rank that certified this soldier for duty...turns out that my nephew had double pneumonia, and it was only the seargeant who saved him from possible respiratory arrest.

GI- means "government issue"...this means that you are owned by the government...on the basis of the last 200 years of US government I don't understand why anyone continues to sign on the dotted line.....How about the ignored and ailing "so-called Gulf War" about those from VietNam who have undetermined and still classified symptoms related to Agent Orange. Time to wake up Lovelies...and read various handwritings on lots of walls. Don't buy the military PR on the television...Military service is indentured servitude,...and just barely removed from slavery.(ranting mode off)

Remember the New York City Draft Riots of 1863? Worst riots in US history... Do some reading...go to the library...spend 2 hours on search engines...

Refuse to be abused, be fodder, be a weapon......

-- Donna Barthuley (, April 19, 1999.

er Donna, you might consider the patriotism thing for a minute. you might also consider that you get a more democratic (lower case 'd'), and generallly higher quality military environment with a draft than you do with an all volunteer force - and that's speaking as someone who served from the end of the draft until the time the force really was all volunteer. You also get a more leavened civilian populace, where the military are not perceived as bizarre aliens.

and yes, it is nearly indentured servitude, and yes you do have your fundamental civil rights severely curtailed and yes it's not a lot of fun, but then that's why they recruit 19 year olds and not 39 year olds...


who been dere and done dat...

-- Arlin H. Adams (, April 19, 1999.

Twenty years ago my sister-in-law, a nurse employed at a VA hospital in a major midwestern city told me never to check into a VA hospital. She saw things every day that curled her hair. I've heard nothing since to indicate the VA has improved its hospitals.

-- Tom Carey (, April 20, 1999.

A friend of mine says the VA hospital issues (and he's got lifelong problems thanks to Vietnam) give him more stress than anything since 'Nam did.

Donna, GI stands for "general infantryman." But your version is funnier and probably more appropriate. :-)

PJ in TX

-- PJ Gaenir (, April 20, 1999.

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