Problems at VA hospitals continue

May 3, 2011 Issues: Veterans

Posted on Tue, May. 03, 2011
By Lesley Clark
lclark@MiamiHerald.com

More than two years after thousands of veterans were put at risk of disease from improperly cleaned medical equipment, federal inspectors said Tuesday that weaknesses still exist in Veterans Affairs’ policies for cleaning the equipment, posing “potential safety risks to veterans."

The Government Accountability Office found that a “lack of specificity and conflicting guidance" for developing training “has led to confusion" about which equipment requires device-specific training.

“While the VA has taken some steps for strengthening… much remains to be done," Randall Williamson, the director of the GAO’s health care team told the House committee on Veterans Affairs. He warned that if the agency’s efforts weren’t improved, veterans could continue to be at risk for infection.

Furious lawmakers pressed VA officials for answers, saying the first cases of exposure were publicized years ago.

“We have been here before," said Rep. Bob Filner, the committee’s top Democrat. “It seems to me the culture of secrecy, the culture of covering up is too prevalent here."

Robert Petzel, the VA’s undersecretary for health, said the agency has taken steps to learn from the exposures and disputed that training hasn’t happened.

“Training is in place and has been done in the vast majority of places," he said, noting that the agency has begun a certification process for its technicians.
“I think we’re doing a good job," he said. “Not a perfect job, but I think we’re on the right path."

Miami lawmakers said they were frustrated that all the veterans exposed in Miami haven’t been located.

“We have no degree of confidence that they are getting care," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami. “I’d like to say to my constituents that this problem has been solved after all these years, but I don’t have that confidence."