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HIV scare causing new problems for Veterans Affairs

By Ed O'Keefe

Eye Opener

Updated 7:06 a.m. ET
Lawmakers plan to hold hearings next week in St. Louis after the Department of Veterans Affairs informed more than 1,800 veterans treated there that they may have been exposed to HIV.

About 1,800 veterans received letters last week telling them they may have been exposed to HIV during dental procedures at the St. Louis VA Medical Center. The veterans received dental work from Feb. 1, 2009, through March 11 of this year. No Veterans are currently ill and the potential risk is extremely low, VA said. At least 180 of the veterans have already agreed to be tested for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV.

Ironically, last week's revelations coincided with a previously scheduled department-wide effort to promote HIV testing at VA facilities.

The hospital's chief of dental services is on administrative leave pending an independent investigation into why employees failed to properly sterilize dental equipment, VA said. Hospital officials discovered that improper steps were taken during a routine oversight visit, according to the department.

"The mistakes made at the St. Louis VA Medical Center are unacceptable, and steps have been and continue to be taken to correct this situation and assure the safety of our veterans," VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said late last week.

Bob Filner, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, on Monday blasted VA for waiting so long to inform veterans.

“It's outrageous, one, that this happens, but even worse is this secretive, almost cover-up mode that they go into when something like this happens,” Filner told CNN. The California Democrat didn't call for Shinseki's ouster, but said “only way you can get accountability is if there is someone who actually pays a price for this."

The care and treatment of military veterans is a major focus of the Obama administration, especially First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, who spent the weekend in Baghdad visiting with troops preparing to return home. The latest exposure scare comes after the VA admitted last year to exposing more than 10,000 military veterans to hepatitis B, hepatitis C or HIV at hospitals in Florida, Georgia and Tennessee.

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Cabinet and Staff News: President Obama and Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts are on a collision course. After his meetings with Benjamin Netanyahu, President Obama meets with Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Gen. David Petraeus gets a call from the big boss. Vice President Biden flexes his muscles as a deal maker in Baghdad. President Obama's national security team burns the midnight oil. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton tries to calm Georgia's fears about the renewed U.S.-Russia ties. The Al Gore sex scandal story goes mainstream. Why is Richard Holbrooke going to New York? NASA Chief Charles Bolden says his new mission to improve relations with the Muslim world.

Black-farmers group cheers deal in war bill: Two longstanding discrimination lawsuits received settlement money in the war supplemental approved by the House late Thursday, spurring advocates to call on the Senate to follow suit.

BP has steady sales at Defense Department despite U.S. scrutiny: The oil giant remains a heavy supplier of military fuel under contracts worth at least $980 million in the current fiscal year.

DFAS employees fired after security review: They were terminated or indefinitely suspended after they were found "ineligible" to meet security requirements of the job.

New satellite to monitor debris in Earth orbit: If all goes as planned, the Space-Based Space Surveillance satellite will have an unobstructed, around-the-clock view of the heavy traffic in Earth orbit.

Pentagon issues new rules for engaging the press: The defense secretary issued a directive to all senior Pentagon military and civilian officials saying their dealing with the media "has grown lax."

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Booz Allen wins $700 million deal for FAA's NextGen: The system is designed to move the agency from a ground-based air-traffic-control system to a satellite-based approach.

Agency agreed wildlife risk from oil was ‘low’: The federal agency charged with protecting endangered species like the brown pelican and the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle signed off on conclusions that deepwater Gulf Coast drilling posed no significant risk to wildlife, despite contrary evidence.

Senator wants administration to pick up the pace on sole-source rule: Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) is frustrated by slow implementation of an eight-month-old law that requires closer scrutiny of noncompetitive contracts.

Uncle Sam reminds federal employees of their shelter in storms: It's summertime, but the living is not so easy -- especially if you're a federal employee living in other hurricane-prone areas.

GSA plans to beef up security of cloud computing: It will launch a new effort this fall intended to help agencies overcome their security concerns with cloud computing.

Wyoming governor puts slice of Grand Teton National Park on the market: The state is trying to force the Interior Department to trade land, minerals or mineral royalties for 1,366 acres that the state owns within the park.

Sept. 11 terrorism trials still in search of a venue: A venue decision has been put on hold and probably will not be made until after November's midterm elections.

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By Ed O'Keefe  | July 6, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener  
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Why can't we just eliminate the Department of Veterans Affairs and all their inefficient VA hospitals and just have veterans go to regular hospitals and dentists? The government could still pay for their premiums and the veterans would receive far better health and dental care.

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Posted by: itkonlyyou160 | July 6, 2010 9:02 AM | Report abuse

This is why the reputation of the VA is so bad and there doesn't seem to be a way out. I'm an active duty military officer and I'll do whatever it takes to avoid being seen at the VA. But, I have a choice while many others do not. It's disturbing to read aricles like this and to hear about the sub-standard care that Veteran's get. This is a new low for what should be the best health care available to the men and women who have served our country. I agree that there will have to be some accountablility for anything to change. This should be one of those times when business as usual just won't fly. I feel for every one of the members and their families who got that letter. Someone needs to make this right.

Posted by: maryjotimpano | July 6, 2010 9:21 AM | Report abuse

This constant low level of care has been going on since Vietnam (I can speak to this from personnel experience)and will never stop until Veterans are allowed to go to real medical facilities with real doctors and nurses who 'must' give decent service or be fired, sued or jailed for their actions! My God, how many articles on the VA's lack of professionalism and basic 'give a care' does it take for the powers at the top to take notice? If no one is required to do it right, people will only do what they can get by with! Government workers prove that daily....just read the papers!

Posted by: gunnysgt77 | July 6, 2010 9:44 AM | Report abuse

A few years ago, during the Bush Era, it was front page news and scandal when mold and peeling paint in rooms at Walter Reed were reported. The head of the hospital was fired.

This story, which has much greater ramifications for patients than peeling paint and mold, has been getting far less coverage. Why?

Posted by: GRILLADES | July 6, 2010 11:34 AM | Report abuse

I have a friend who deals with the VA on a regular, and it's amazing how bad of service i hear him getting. These are people who fought for the freedom we have now. Our retired soldiers deserve the best medical care that can be given. I've never heard anything good about the VA. It's a shame, it truly is and this article just confirms my opinions and thoughts about the VA. Something really needs to be done about to make things better at within the VA.

Posted by: chanlloyd123 | July 6, 2010 11:53 AM | Report abuse

It is Modus Operandi of the VA to hide an error and fire any employee who try to help vets or exposes any problem. Recently, I came across a report of an investigation by the VA Inspector General regarding the delay of cancer treatment for a patient at Zablocki VAMC.


It appears that gross medical malpractice was performed by 2 radiologists, a radiation oncologist, a surgeon , and an internal medicine doctor, all of whom are faculty at Medical College of Wisconsin. You might say a comedy of medical errors. Yet, none of the incompetent MD got fired or reprimanded.

Also, why does the Inspector General have to be called to investigate, could several of these docs been involved in a coverup and what happened to the whistleblower?
Veterans sacrifice their lives at the war front and to get this type of care is immoral. If anybody in the Central Office has moral, we vets are praying that you fire those reponsible in all these situations- time to make sure that ethical decisions are made by somewhat unethical administrators at your VA facilities.

Posted by: billklein1 | July 6, 2010 1:19 PM | Report abuse

Do most VA doctors go to the same military medical school as Nidal Hassan or do they attend other types of medical schools?

Posted by: edismae | July 6, 2010 3:03 PM | Report abuse

If Whistleblowers, like Earlene Johnson, pay the price by losing their jobs after exposing these medical errors and incompetence, surely those who perform and allow medical errors to fester and kill or maim vet should also lose their jobs. As a vet, why should I, who fought overseas, not get upset when incompetent administrators, docs, and other va employees literally can hide any error- even if it results in death and not get a reprimand or fired. It is certain that no one will get reprimanded over this. The liars and most incometent will get medals and a pat on the back. The only way to get accountability is to sue the medical schools affiliated with these institutions and who provide services at these VA. Recently, vets sued the Univ of Penn for gross negligenct in allowing substandard care at the Philadelphia VA. Hopefully this may wake somebody up at the VA- punish the incompetent unethical people not the whistleblower.

Posted by: billklein1 | July 6, 2010 5:37 PM | Report abuse

WOW, this site is how deep you have buried Holden's new NASA mission to outreach to Muslims! This new mission, quite obviously, has nothing to do with SPACE and just speaks to BO's continued bowing and bending to the Muslim world! You guys are so far in the tank for the administration it is beyond pathetic. I don't know how you manage to look yourselves in the face every morning without blushing!

Posted by: rogerherd | July 7, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

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