The chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs announced Wednesday that he will lead a congressional oversight visit at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center on Jan. 6 to determine why three cancer patients needlessly died because of a lack of care in the Augusta hospital’s gastrointestinal clinic.
Rep. Jeff Miller, a Florida Republican, said the visit will include an executive briefing from Augusta VA officials regarding the steps department leaders have taken to address problems with delays in care for more than 5,000 veterans.
The announcement comes after almost a month of negotiations by Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga., to host a hearing at the hospital to “hold accountable VA employees and executives who may be responsible for allowing patients to slip through the cracks.”
Barrow said in a statement Wednesday that he is looking forward to welcoming Miller to Augusta and that he hopes this visit provides the answers his district needs.
“There’s no question that someone dropped the ball at the Charlie Norwood VA when it came to providing the best care for our nation’s veterans,” Barrow said. “We need to get to the bottom of what went wrong so we can prevent it in the future – we owe that to our service men and women.”
The oversight visit is the result of at least nine preventable veteran deaths linked to delays in care at the Augusta facility and its sister hospital, the Williams Jennings Bryan Dorn VA Medical Center in Columbia, S.C., according to a press release from the House VA Committee.
The issue of delays in care in the two cities, the committee said, first surfaced as part of a March 14 hearing it conducted. An ensuing investigation the committee launched identified more than 4,500 unresolved gastroenterology consults in Augusta and nearly 3,000 in Columbia.
The committee further added that the Columbia and Augusta deaths are part of a pattern of at least 21 recent preventable ones and lapses in care at VA medical facilities across the country.
Nearly three months ago, the committee asked the VA for a detailed list of all facilities where delays in care persist as well as information regarding disciplinary actions taken against any employees involved in Augusta and Columbia.
To date, the VA has not complied with these requests, committee spokesman Curt Cashour said.
Before Miller visits Augusta, he plans to stop in Columbia for a congressional oversight visit at its VA hospital. A congressional hearing on the two visits is likely to later follow in Washington, D.C., officials said.