WASHINGTON -- Fresh from a high-profile, whirlwind tour of Europe and the war zone in Iraq, President Obama pivots back to two critical domestic issues today: improving health care for military veterans and the housing crisis.
This afternoon, Obama, along with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Veterans Administration Secretary Eric Shinsheki, will announce a Joint Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record, a system to computerize medical records of all military personnel. The move, according to the White House, will streamline the transfer of medical information between the Defense Department, which holds information on active-duty servicemen and women, and the Department of Veterans Affairs, which manages care for military retirees.
The move also mirrors the Obama administration's attempts to streamline health care costs for everyone by making all medical records digital, improving efficiency and accuracy for health care administrators.
"Access to electronic records is essential to modern health care delivery and the paperless administration of benefits," according to the White House statement. "The creation of this Joint Virtual Lifetime Record by the two organizations would take the next leap to delivering seamless, high-quality care, and serve as a model for the nation.
"Currently, there is no comprehensive system in place that allows for a streamlined transition of health care records between DOD and the VA," the statement continues. "Both Departments will work together to define and build a system that will ultimately contain administrative and medical information from the day an individual enters military service throughout their military career, and after they leave the military."
But the statement also contained a strong signal to veterans' groups who have pushed the White House to provide seamless funding to the Veterans Administration to avoid shortfalls -- and gaps in health care -- when the annual budget expires at the end of the fiscal year.
"The President believes that the quality of care that our veterans receive should never be hindered by budget delays," according to the statement. "He has shared this concern with Secretary Shinseki, and they have worked together to support advanced funding of veterans medical care. What that means is a timely and predictable flow of funding from year to year, but more importantly, that means better care for our veterans."
Earlier this morning, Obama met with homeowners who have taken advantage of goverment-sponsored refinancing programs to lower their interest rates. While the president didn't take any questions from pool reporters, he gave a brief statement promoting government-sponsored programs for home refinancing.
"Here's the good news. At the beginning of this administration we said we are -- we were going to tackle directly the problems that homeowners were experiencing and figure out ways in which we could provide them assistance in reducing their interest rates, modifying their loans so that they would be in a position to stay in their homes and reduce their monthly payments," Obama said. "And around the table here you see some wonderful families who have taken advantage of what are now historically low mortgage rates" as low as they've been since 1971. That's led to record refinancing rates
Pointing to the homeowners he invited to the White House, Obama said they represent "families who have saved hundreds of dollars a month, thousands of dollars a year in some cases" through refinancing, "and that's money directly in their pocket."
Struggling homeowners can go to MakingHomeAffordable.gov, Obama said, to "plug in your information and immediately find out whether or not you are potentially eligible for one of these -- one of these mortgage refinancings."
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Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.