Senators Call For Changes At VA Amid Health Lapses

Responding to reports of dangerous lapses in the VA medical system, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee said Wednesday that more centralized control is needed, The Associated Press reports.

"Disparities in quality control procedures at VA medical centers raise questions about whether local, regional or national leaders are in charge, Democratic Sen. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii said in a statement before the committee hearing."

"VA spokeswoman Katie Roberts said the agency was releasing $26 million from reserve funds to buy new equipment to improve the cleaning of endoscopes and other reusable medical devices. The announcement came as VA officials continued taking heavy criticism on Capitol Hill over botched colonoscopies and other endoscopic procedures in Miami, Augusta, Ga., Murfreesboro, Tenn., and Mountain Home, Tenn." Lawmakers have called for more standardized cleaning procedures for the VA (Evans, 6/24).

The VA is also facing criticism that it gave bad radiation treatments to 100 cancer patients, Fox News reports: "Veterans groups and lawmakers say VA hospitals have permitted these violations because federal regulations allow doctors to work with little outside scrutiny. They say the VA health system, with its under-funded hospitals and overworked doctors, is showing signs of an 'institutional breakdown,' in the words of one congressman." Fox referred to an earlier New York Times article on the violations (Abrams, 6/24).

By the middle of July, federal VA officials will have made unannounced visits to every VA health facility in the United States to inspect endoscopes, the Miami Herald reports: "Gerald Cross, acting undersecretary for health at the Department of Veterans Affairs, said he was 'distraught' by the findings of the surprise inspections. 'I was very disappointed,' Cross said. 'We did something wrong, and I expect it to be corrected'" (Clark and Tasker, 6/25).

Senators at the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs hearing wondered if mistakes at VAs are common, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports: "The senators also wanted to know if such mistakes were occurring at VA hospitals more than at facilities in the private sector, and whether still more errors in the hospital system would emerge. 'What worries me is what else has happened,' said Sen. Richard Burr (R., N.C.)" (Flam, 6/25).

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