Blue Buttons and Mushrooms

By Bruce Burgess STAFF WRITER

  The VA is telling me that I have another new resource available to me.  This new VA initiative is being lauded throughout government and the press, and is just one more reason that you taxpayers should be happy that Uncle Sam is taking care of us poor wounded, homeless, TBI shocked, and PTSD stricken Veterans.  And I am sure we can all agree that Uncle Sam, the VA and Secretary Shinseki regularly ask for Veteran opinion in matters that pertain to Veterans, right?  I am also sure most of the employee’s of this vast initiative are Veterans themselves; especially considering Veteran unemployment is currently hovering around 20%.

 Okay so the big Blue Button, available in the MyHealthyVet portal, that he VA is harping on and on about will supposedly allow me to download my entire medical health record, and transfer that information however I please; be that to my private physician or hard drive.  Well that is pretty darn nice, and from a Novice-Geek perspective this sounds right up my alley.  Unfortunately, like virtually every government website, and every web resource I have found for Veterans, it is virtually useless and one more disappointment among many.

 After a lengthy fight through various sections at my VAMC, I gained entry into the MyHealtheVet portal with its blue button.  Membership granted!  Sweet!  Let’s log onto this thing and see just how much it is like AKO; that is Army Knowledge Online for you civilian types, the vast US Army experiment in digital data and communications management, which actually worked very well.  Go Army with your bad self and your completely awesome portal! I am sure Secretary Shinseki remembers AKO from his Army days and modeled this web portal after that very useful tool.  Fingers crossed. Please be like AKO, or a “VKO” for that matter; that would be awesome!

Alright I am in, and I was told this thing will let me track my disability claim, order prescriptions, make appointments, use that fancy button and see my latest lab results; because I have to regulate my cholesterol or that could kill me; if the VA doesn’t do it first.  As I should have known, through countless VA initiative after initiative, the MyHealheVet experience was a consummate failure with one single feature available to me, prescription ordering. 

So, after all the hype from countless media outlets and Todd Park the Chief Technology Officer of the US Department of Health and Human Services proclaiming the usefulness of this button, I find nothing other than a download of my most basic information.  No health record, no military medical history, not even my allergy information is populated in this download.  Then I saw one little tab within the MyHealtheVet portal that told me this area is “self populating”.  What?  Self populating means I input the data!  That means DIY for a good chunk of everything that is important to me medically. Expletive, expletive, and more expletives!  Well isn’t this wonderful. 

The VA, countless taxpayer dollars, contractors and personnel gave me a resource to store data that I input.  How freaking glorious that the vast beaurocracy gave me a resource to “download my medical records” in a self populating format.  How generous they are to deliver a resource where I do their work for them, in what I am sure is an astronomically expensive portal to store what I currently store in adobe or word, in my private hard drive. I won’t even mention the VA’s record of personal Veteran data security.  Oh, but I can order prescriptions on MyHealtheVet, which I previously completed via automated phone menu.  Big beneficial changes are here, hooray. Somebody in DC deserves a cookie. 

 So, I have to ask; what does the Blue Button and MyHealtheVet really do for me?  The VA claims it will expand MyHealtheVet in later development initiatives and provide more features.  If that is true, then I have to ask why the CTO unveiled this button to fanfare, and the press?  Why are they teasing my fellow Veterans, Medicare recipients and yours truly with implications of useful tools, when tools like the button are incomplete or broken? 

I understand that some data will be input from the providers and VA staff; however I have requested that my entire health history be added to MyHealtheVet twice now, with no results.   This leads us to the heart of my blue button issue which is this; the employee’s of the VA need to take action with this possibly useful tool; and at my hospital you can barely get them off Facebook to get an appointment, let alone trust them to figure out the intricacies of uploading megabytes of data.  I must ask if the VA Staff does not populate the data on their end, what good is the MyHealtheVet portal to me and the fabulous blue button?  If the VA cannot upload my health record data to MyHealtheVet, then what good is any of this; and why all the fanfare? 

 I suppose it’s just like it was in the US Army.  I am a mushroom and they are keeping me in the dark and feeding me sh**.  Tasty.

 Lastly, I must include one last tidbit.  Every Soldier, Airman, Sailor and Marine knows that “training” or inert ordnance, weapons, bombs, grenades and etc. are all blue in color.  How ironic that the “Blue Button” is blue, the perfect color for an inert function in an inert web portal.


Bruce Burgess is an Operation Iraqi Freedom US Army Veteran, and Staff Writer at VT.  He is currently a full time student pursuing a bachelors degree in Information Technology with a minor in Technical Writing (under the Post 9/11 GI Bill); with specific IT specialization in Counter-IED and Counter-Terrorism operations. 

His background includes two tours of duty in Iraq as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team Leader/Member, service with the 101st Airborne and more national guard assignments than he can count.  He considers himself to be a Veteran Advocate for “Those with TBI’s too severe to fight for themselves” and an open critic of government waste, fraud and abuse; especially abuse that relates to Veteran and Military affairs.


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