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Lawmaker Presses Tracking of Exposed Veterans

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Lawmaker Presses Tracking of Exposed Veterans

But Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, who last week fired off a letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, expressing alarm that almost one-third of the veterans who may have been exposed had not been reached, pressed agency officials at a closed-door hearing to do more.

She said she wants to see the number of those not reached -- which now stands at 332 -- reduced further.

''That number continues to drop and we will continue to focus on it,'' said John Vara, the Miami hospital's chief of staff.

Ros-Lehtinen suggested agency officials should enlist veterans' service organizations and knock on doors at the veterans' last-known addresses. Agency officials said they'd consider her suggestions.

''We need to be more creative in reaching out to people than sending a letter every six weeks,'' she said after the briefing to which she invited a Miami Herald reporter.

She broadcast via Twitter as she left: ``Just left dc briefing by vet hospital experts on reaching every vet who may have been at risk of hepatitis n hiv. Need more outreach.''

''There are so many options at the VA's disposal that to say they cannot find the veterans is simply unacceptable,'' she said in a press release.

The agency has also visited area homeless shelters, a fact Ros-Lehtinen called ``shameful.

''This reflects poorly on our greatness as a country that those who have served us are now in homeless shelters and on the street,'' Ros-Lehtinen said.

Previous figures had put the number of veterans who hadn't been contacted at more than 1,000 and Ros-Lehtinen called the new figures ``a ray of good news in this terrible situation.''
But she said she was concerned that 66 affected veterans have declined to be tested for infection and she asked the agency to do more to encourage veterans that they face no health risks by being tested.

''We need to get that 66 down to zero,'' she said. ``They need more information about how it's not harmful in the least to be tested. It's a potential public health hazard for them not to be tested.''

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