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Pentagon Red Tape Keeps Medical Records From Doctors of the Wounded

By Al Kamen
Friday, February 16, 2007; A21
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/02/15/AR2007021501486_pf.html

Department of Veterans Affairs doctors are furious over a recent decision by the Pentagon to block their access to medical information needed to treat severely injured troops arriving at VA hospitals from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The VA physicians handle troops with serious brain injuries and other major health problems. They, rely on digital medical records that track the care given wounded troops from the moment of their arrival at a field hospital through their evacuation to the United States.

About 30 VA doctors in four trauma centers around the country have treated about 200 severely wounded soldiers and Marines. The docs had been receiving the complete digital records from the Pentagon until the end of January, using the Pentagon's Joint Patient Tracking Application.

But on Jan. 25, when Shane McNamee, a physician in the Richmond VA Medical Center, tried to get the full records, he couldn't. He sent an urgent e-mail to VA chief liaison officer Edward Huycke.

"My JPTA account has been disabled within last few days," McNamee wrote. "I called the hotline and was told that all VA accounts have been locked. Could not get a good answer why. Anyhow -- I have 4 [Iraq/Afghanistan] service members to arrive within the next 2 days. This information is terribly important," the doctor wrote.

Thirty-four minutes later Huycke e-mailed back: "Ok, Shane. Will get on it. Not sure what's up."

An hour or so later, a senior VA official forwarded McNamee's e-mail to Lt. Col. David Parramore at the Pentagon, saying that McNamee "needs his access back to JPTA to provide the best possible treatment for soldiers injured in [Iraq/Afghanistan] arriving there in a few days. Can you help?"

Tommy Morris, director of Deployment Health Systems, responded the next morning to Parramore's inquiry, after contacting Ellen Embry, deputy assistant secretary of defense for force health protection. "I spoke with Embry and no agreements, no data sharing via access to JPTA."

The access cutoff came after Morris, in a Jan. 23 e-mail, instructed a colleague: "If the VA currently has access I need a list of persons and I need their accounts shut off ASAP. It is illegal for them to have access without data use agreements and access controls in place by federal regulations and public law."

There have been meetings between VA and Pentagon officials. The Pentagon declined to comment yesterday. VA officials apparently thought it might have been resolved Monday. But an e-mail Monday from Morris to a co-worker said: "The leadership has not authorized the VA accounts to be turned back on, in case someone approaches you about this."

Last week, Sens. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) and Larry E. Craig (Idaho) -- the chairman and ranking Republican on the Veterans' Affairs Committee -- wrote David S.C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel, of their "deep concern" about VA trauma center doctors not having access to complete records.

"For those servicemembers suffering from a traumatic brain injury," they wrote, "VA's access to in-theater imaging is an important and valuable tool for tracking their patient's progress since being wounded or injured." They suggested the VA doctor be given temporary access to JPTA while the data-sharing questions are worked out.

They're still awaiting an appropriate response. McNamee is still waiting for the records.

Rebuilding Afghanistan? 'Neat.'

Bush-bashers often accuse him of not being aware that his riffs on Iraq and Afghanistan can be a bit stale sometimes. On the contrary, President Bush is acutely aware of the problem. He demonstrated that in a speech yesterday before the conservative American Enterprise Institute at the Mayflower Hotel.

Noting a number of administration officials attending, Bush said it was great to see them and that "I fully expect you to stay awake for the entire address." Apparently they did, but at least one member of the audience was spotted dozing peacefully in the back.

Bush even tried to wander off-message a little, to folksify his chat. He hailed prosecutors, judges, police and defense lawyers for going over to Afghanistan to mentor their counterparts. "And I appreciate our own citizens going over there. It is, must be neat, really -- I guess 'neat' isn't a sophisticated word, but it must be heartening to be somebody who's helping this young democracy develop a judicial system that is worthy."

Or maybe gratifying?

'Obama bin Laden': Free for All

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has rejected a Miami Beach man's application to trademark the name "Obama bin Laden" because the name "may falsely suggest a connection with the individuals Osama bin Laden and Barack Obama," USPTO lawyer Karen Bush said in a Feb. 6 rejection letter, the Miami Herald reported yesterday.

You can't get a trademark for "immoral or scandalous matter," Bush said, adding that the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, "have caused the name Bin Laden itself to be synonymous with the acts themselves. As such, the name Bin Laden is scandalous and is not registerable." His many relatives and the companies they own may want to take note.

The applicant, Alexandre Batlle of http://www.obamabinladen.net, sells coffee mugs, T-shirts, hats and such. One has a cartoon of presidential candidates Obama -- in a white robe and turban and holding a machine gun -- and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), in an abaya.

Batlle might appeal -- after all, he paid $325 to file the application -- and who knows, he might prevail on those counts. But another reason Bush cited might a bit tougher.

"In the present case, the names Obama and Osama clearly refer" to the Democratic senator from Illinois and the terrorist, she said. Since they are both alive -- how does she know about Osama? -- "the applicant must therefore submit written consent from the two individuals authorizing the applicant to register their names."

No problem on Obama, but Waziristan is awfully cold this time of year. Dangerous, too.