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VA Head Testifies About Botched Treatments

Oct 15, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP We have been following several  medical scandals at the Department of Veterans Affairs. In one case VA centers in three cities have been accused of reusing colonoscopy and endoscopy equipment without properly sanitizing the equipment. At last count, some 50 veterans have tested positive for blood borne pathogens.

The VA also recently sent erroneous letters to veterans with potential neurological diagnoses, but who do not have ALS—Lou Gehrig’s disease—telling them they were diagnosed with the debilitating, deadly disease. At last count, some 600 veterans received the distressing letters. And, last June, the brachytherapy program at the VA Medical Center in Philadelphia was shut down, after it was learned that scores of veterans had received incorrect radiation doses over a six-year period.

The Washington Times is now reporting that the VA Department’s agency chief Eric Shinseki acknowledged at a Congressional panel yesterday that the Department did make serious safety errors at some of its centers and also was lax in conducting necessary educational and monetary services to thousands of veterans. "While this process is at times painful, it is the right thing to do for veterans and the nation and will ultimately result in greater trust and better quality," said Shinseki when discussing the issues specifically at the Philadelphia center, said the Washington Times.

In addition to the scandals involving shoddy brachytherapy procedures, endoscopies, and colonoscopies, and inaccurate ALS notifications, there have been other problems.

Shinseki also talked about delays in education funding for veterans who had been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. "Across the nation, veterans who applied for benefits under the GI Bill have been told their payments are being delayed because of an overwhelming number of problems at both the department and the schools," said Representative Bob Filner (California-Democrat), the committee chairman, quoted the Washington Times.

According to Representative Steve Buyer (Indiana-Republican) who is the ranking committee member, the educational benefit delays, as well as delays in processing disability claims is still increasing, reported the Washington Times. "The challenges you have stepped into are almost a runaway train, so how do you stop that train?” said Buyer, quoted the Washington Times.

The VA has scheduled a so-called “emergency exercise” so that the agency can "enter the spring semester with no backlog," said Shineski, speaking of the education funds. And, although the VA resolved 92,000 claims in July alone, another 91,000 claims were received, said Shinseki, wrote the Washington Times.

Concerning veterans who are suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Shinseki said they will receive care, but did not explain a new rule that concerns this care. The Washington Times explained that the new rule, which is being considered by the VA, would include a change to what is required to confirm that a veteran does indeed suffer from PTSD. "If a stressor is related to the veteran's fear of hostile military or terrorist activity and a VA psychiatrist or psychologist confirms that the claimed stressor is adequate to support a diagnosis of PTSD," veterans would be eligible for medical treatment. New York Democrat, Representative John Hall who is also the chairman of the Veterans subcommittee on disability assistance and memorial affairs, spoke with veterans’ organizations about the rules limitations such as needing a VA doctor to make a diagnosis and what qualifies as a contributing factor or trigger, noted the Washington Times.

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