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Congressional oversight visit scheduled at Augusta VA

Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013 6:21 PM
Last updated Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013 1:42 AM
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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.

the back story

delays in care

BACKGROUND: The Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center announced in November that because of consultation delays that topped 5,100 veterans, three cancer patients died needlessly between 2010 and 2011 while receiving treatment through the Augusta hospital’s gastrointestinal program.

After the fallout, health care administrators at Charlie Norwood said they brought in extra personnel; leased and purchased additional scopes; and even re-engineered the hospital’s floorplan to increase patient flow.

The three-month effort helped the facility reduce its backlog to 540 unresolved consults

DEVELOPMENTS:

• On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs said he will lead a congressional oversight visit to the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center on Jan. 6 to determine the cause of the deaths.

• Last week, Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. and member of the Senate’s Committee on Veterans Affairs has pledged his support.

• Last month, three national veterans advocacy groups – including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Uniformed Services Disabled Retirees – demanded action.

Members of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs

Republicans Democrats

Jeff Miller (FL), Chairman Michael H. Michaud (ME), Ranking Member

Doug Lamborn (CO) Corrine Brown ( FL)

Gus M. Bilirakis (FL), Vice Chairman Mark Takano (CA)

David P. Roe (TN) Julia Brownley (CA)

Bill Flores (TX) Dina Titus (NV)

Jeff Denham (CA) Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ)

Jon Runyan (NJ) Raul Ruiz (CA)

Dan Benishek (MI) Gloria Negrete McLeod (CA)

Tim Huelskamp (KS) Ann McLane Kuster (NH)

Mark Amodei (NV) Beto O’Rourke (TX)

Mike Coffman (CO) Tim Walz (MN)

Brad Wenstrup (OH)

Paul Cook (CA)

Jackie Walorski (IN)


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