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Veterans' Healthcare Facilities/Commemorating Earth Hour

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mrs. BIGGERT. Mr. Speaker, I rise today deeply concerned about yesterday's reports regarding nearly 10,000 of our Nation's veterans who may have been exposed to HIV and other communicable diseases at Veteran's Administration hospitals. Like those veterans and their families, I'm shocked and appalled that this could have happened. Our veterans deserve better.

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of meeting with the new VA Secretary, Eric Shinseki, at the North Chicago VA Hospital to discuss improving care for our veterans. We've heard a lot about change in the past several months. Well, we have the duty to change our VA health system so reports of occurrences like we heard earlier this week never happen again. This means taking a serious look at every option to improve our veterans' care.

One option is right in my backyard. It is actually in my good friend from Illinois, Mrs. Halvorson's district. There's a hospital named Silver Cross that will be moving to a new location in 2012. The facility that they are leaving has an emergency room that was built in 2006 and a specialty care wing that is less than 7 years old.

Instead of being opportunistic and selling the facility to the highest bidder, the hospital formed a Healthy Community Commission, whose focus is to give back to the Will County community. Our veterans are at the top of their list, and I commend them for that.

I look forward to working with Secretary Shinseki, Congresswoman Halvorson and Members of both sides of the aisle to explore this and other options to make sure that our veterans never again have to put up with inadequate care.

And with that, Mr. Speaker, this Saturday, March 28, 2009, at 8:30 p.m. millions of people around the world will join together to turn off their lights for 1 hour, Earth Hour, to raise awareness about climate change. Communities, individuals, businesses and organizations will turn off non-essential lighting and cast a virtual vote for global education, awareness and action on this important issue.

Earth Hour began in 2007 in Sydney, Australia where more than 2.2 million people turned off their lights. Last year, World Wildlife Fund took Earth Hour global and more than 50 million people in more than 400 cities, on all seven continents participated, darkening some of the world's most famous skylines and icons, including the Empire State Building, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Coliseum in Rome, and the Sears Tower in Chicago. Even Google's home page went dark for that day.

This year, more than 1,700 cities in some 80 countries already have signed up to participate, with more joining each day. The event itself will begin in Fiji, cascading across the world with Hawaii as the final stop. In my district, three municipalities, Aurora, Naperville and Homer Glen, and numerous businesses have signed up to participate.

We need to start addressing climate change now, and Earth Hour is one of the many steps that we can take to do just that. That's why I introduced House Resolution 268, with my good friend from Georgia, Mr. Barrow, to support these goals and ideas of Earth Hour. The resolution will help increase education, awareness and action on this important environmental issue.

I encourage my colleagues to cosponsor House Resolution 268 and join in this inspiring and historical event.

I will submit an article entitled, ``3,000 Vets Face HIV Risk After Unsterile Procedure,'' from the Associated Press, for the Record.
[From the Associated Press, Mar. 24, 2009]

3,000 Vets Face HIV Risk After Unsterile Procedure

A Veterans Affairs hospital here has notified thousands of patients that their colonoscopies were performed with improperly sterilized equipment, officials said Monday.

The hospital urged about 3,260 patients who had colonoscopies between May 2004 and March 12 of this year to get tests for HIV, hepatitis and other diseases.

The VA insisted the risk of infection was minimal, saying the tubing that was improperly cleaned didn't make contact with patients.

It was the second recent announcement of errors during colonoscopies at VA facilities.

``The very notion that veterans have to contemplate this new reality now before them and visit special care clinics to undergo blood testing is stomach-turning,'' U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Fla., said in a letter Monday to the VA's inspector general. ``This information is shocking.''

Meek urged a door-to-door campaign to alert veterans of the error.

``Although there is minimal risk, we feel that even a slight risk is unacceptable to the veterans we care for,'' said Susan Ward, a spokeswoman for the VA in Miami.

Last month, 6,378 patients at a clinic in Murfreesboro, Tenn., were told they may have been exposed to infectious body fluids during colonoscopies.

The VA said 1,800 veterans treated at an ear, nose and throat clinic in Augusta, Ga., were also alerted they could have been exposed to an infection due to improper disinfection of an instrument, though officials said the risk was ``extremely small.''

The VA hasn't said whether it expects more facilities to announce similar problems. though Meek cautioned the number of affected people ``could quickly expand to include a much larger pool of people.''

``That, somehow, these standard protocols were not followed will undoubtedly leave our veterans with serious misgivings about our VA system,'' he said.

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