In a letter sent today to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Congressmen Jerry Costello (D-IL), Phil Hare (D-IL) and John Shimkus (R-IL) expressed extreme concern and alarm about the potential exposure of their veteran constituents to HIV, Hepatitis B and C and other blood-borne diseases from dental care received at the John Cochran VA Medical Center in St. Louis. The VA sent out letters earlier this week to 1,812 veterans who may have been exposed, following an inspection by the National Infectious Diseases Program Office (IDPO) that found the facility was not following standard operating procedures for sterilization, disinfection and cleaning of medical equipment.
In the letter, Costello, Hare and Shimkus called on Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki to conduct an immediate investigation of the actions that led to this critical safety lapse and to take steps to ensure patient safety standards are upheld at all VA facilities, including dealing with infected patients. They also urged Secretary Shinseki to provide them with the IDPO inspection report, to strengthen VA oversight of sterilization practices, and to enhance regulations to protect veterans from infection and reduce the chance of such a lapse happening in the future.
"The VA has to demonstrate that it can follow routine procedures to protect the health of veterans," said Costello. "Coming after the problems at the Marion VAMC, this revelation is unacceptable and needs to be addressed immediately."
"Our veterans risked their lives for our freedoms," Hare said. "We owe them more than our thanks. They deserve the best care money can buy. Those who serve this nation understand that they may be exposed to danger, but not at the local VA clinic charged with their care. This horrendous and unacceptable report must be addressed immediately and those who allowed the situation to reach this level should be held accountable."
"It is extremely disappointing that VA procedures were not followed for over a year before they were discovered. This is a continuing sign that the VA healthcare system has serious lapses that need to be addressed. I hope that these precautionary tests are just that, and no veteran has been infected," stated Shimkus.