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Public Statements

Letter to The Honorable James B. Peake, M.D., Secretary of Veterans' Affairs

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Durbin, Obama, Costello and Shimkus Express Concerns Over Recent VA Promotion

Doctor who oversaw Marion VA facility chosen to oversee VA quality and safety

U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Barack Obama (D-IL) were joined by Congressmen Jerry Costello (D-IL) and John Shimkus (R-IL) in expressing concern over the recent appointment of Dr. Peter Almenoff - the former head of the regional network responsible for the Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center in Marion, Illinois - as the Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Health and for Quality Safety.

In a letter to Secretary of the VA, Dr. James Peake, the members of the Illinois Congressional delegation asked for an explanation of the VA's decision to promote Dr. Almenoff along with a full description of his new responsibilities. Additionally, they asked for any information the VA may have about his efforts to ensure high-quality medical care at Marion as director of the VA Heartland Network.

"Dr. Peter Almenoff had oversight authority over the Marion VA Medical Center when nine lives were lost due to substandard care," said Durbin. "Just last week, he was given a promotion expanding his authority over healthcare throughout the VA. Critical questions about Dr. Almenoff's role in overseeing the quality of care at Marion VA should have been answered before he was appointed to this new position."

"After last year's unacceptable tragedies and negligent administration of the Marion VA, it's deeply troubling that Secretary Peake would promote the individual apparently responsible for the mismanagement of the facility to lead the Department's health quality and safety efforts," said Senator Obama. "There are too many unanswered questions about Dr. Almenoff's role in the mismanagement of Marion that it seems imprudent to move forward with this appointment without further explanation. Our veterans and service members deserve care worthy of their sacrifice, and they should not be put in danger. I look forward to Secretary Peake's prompt explanation."

"We have repeatedly emphasized that the VA needs to be very clear with the public about how it is proceeding to restore confidence in the Marion VAMC and the overall veterans' health system," said Costello. "Given Dr. Almenoff's previous position, we need more information as to how his promotion best serves the VA and our veterans moving forward."

"Many veterans have lost confidence in the Marion VA Medical Center, and their trust must be earned back," Shimkus said. "Promoting someone at this time who had been in the chain of command, such as Dr. Almenoff, sends the wrong message to those who have put their lives on the line for this nation."

Durbin, Obama, Costello and Shimkus have been closely monitoring the progress at the Marion VA Medical Center and the progress being made in hiring a new professional leadership team for the facility. Last month, in a meeting with the four Illinois lawmakers, Secretary Peake announced that a new leadership team will be put in place this fall at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Marion, Illinois.

The Honorable James B. Peake, M.D.
Secretary of Veterans' Affairs
Department of Veterans' Affairs
810 Vermont Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20420

Dear Secretary Peake:

Last week, the Department of Veterans' Affairs announced that its quality and safety efforts will be led by an official with a questionable track record of ensuring quality and safety at a VA medical care facility in Illinois. Dr. Peter Almenoff, who will serve as the Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Quality and Safety, formerly directed the VA Heartland Network responsible for the Marion VA Medical Center. As you know, at least nine veterans died in 2007 because of surgical incompetence at the Marion facility. The VA reviewed the facility after the deaths and found easily identifiable problems at Marion. We are not aware of any efforts by the network to fix these problems in the months before the spike in mortality levels. Indeed, the Department's reviews identified certain deficiencies with the network led by Dr. Almenoff.

The role of the network in the failure of the Marion facility was never formally reviewed. Nor were network officials included in the Administrative Board of Investigation review. Instead, the VA has promoted the director, who should have been aware of the mismanagement at Marion -- mismanagement that led to the deaths of veterans who had every right to trust that they would receive quality medical care.

It is difficult to understand the decision to promote Dr. Almenoff. News of his promotion will be frustrating for the veterans who rely on the Marion medical center, particularly since quality and safety issues were at the forefront of the facility's troubles. It may also be of concern to veterans nationally, as Dr. Almenoff presumably will be responsible for quality and safety issues for the entire VA. You have promised to visit Marion and meet with concerned individuals there, and we are sure you will be asked during your visit about the decision to promote Dr. Almenoff.

We would appreciate an explanation for the decision to promote Dr. Almenoff and a full description of his new responsibilities, along with any information the VA may have about his efforts as director of the Heartland Network to ensure high-quality medical care at Marion.

Sincerely,


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