Ava filling in for Trina tonight to note the most absurd hearing in Congress that I may have attended. The full House Veterans Affairs Committee met this morning to address an ongoing problem that's been known since at least 2009: some VA patients who seek treatment end up being infected with other diseases: HIV, hepatitis, etc.
This is due to the equipment and the manner in which its cleaned. Or that's what Committee member Phil Roe (who is also a medical doctor) stated. C.I. details this in the snapshot and I want to just emphasize one point of the hearing not in the snapshot.
Representing the VHA was Dr. Robert Petzel who seems to feel his main job duty is to obscure. As C.I. reports in the snapshot, he couldn't give straight answers and was combative. One member, I felt, broke down reality for him. It was a brief moment but I thought it worth noting.
US House Rep Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican from Florida's 18th district, took part in the hearing due to VA issues in Florida. She chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee. She does not sit on the House VA committee but, again, due to issues with Florida's VA, she sat in on the meeting.
She noted that while the VA's been claiming for some time, including Petzel himself in a hearing last July, that the VA is on top of this, this past December, 12 more veterans in the Miami area were found to have been potentially exposed and had not been notified..
US House Rep Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: And while I am happy that the VA is making efforts to reform its procedures in the areas of reusable medical equipment and in notifying at-risk patients, we have been down this path before. We are so frustrated, Miss [Frederica] Wilson, Mr. [David] Rivera, Mr. [Marco] Diaz-Balart and I. In 2009, the Miami VA as you know notified over 2,400 veterans that they may have been at risk for infectious diseases. Then a year later, during a review of the VA's facility logs, a year later, an additional 79 veterans were discovered to have been at risk. And now, just this past December where Miss Wilson was talking about, another 12 names were discovered in a third review. Of these veterans, 17 have tested positive for HIV or hepatitis B or C. It doesn't mean that it's cause and effect but it's very alarming. So over these three years, the list has kept growing. Members have previously sat in this very Committee room, were assured by VA that the administration was taking action to correct this previously failed policy. This has not happened. Those steps have not been put into place. The VA central office initilally left it up to the Miami VA to identify at-risk patients. And I would like to ask these questions. Will another review, if we were to do another review, find more at-risk patients? What degree of confidence do we have that every time you've done a review, you've found additional folks who've fallen through the cracks? I don't have confidence that the entire pool of at-risk patients have been identified. Secondly, are there now oversight mechanisms in place at the VA's central office where an independent authority will take charge and make certain that a local VA -- like Miami -- will meticuously review patient files to identify those who require notification? Or is the attitude of the central office that things are going well, paitents are being identified and all systems go? And number three, so here we are again, members are being told that the VA has taken steps to eliminate the problems from VA centers and if additional names are found or if it's discovered that facilities continue to use improperly steralized equipment, what then? What steps will be taken? And I share Congresswoman Wilson's frustration. When we were there at -- We've had so many meetings about the follow up and I remember the first meeting that we had and that was with her predecessor Mr. [Kendrick] Meeks and we made this oh-so brilliant suggestion that perhaps they could go door to door and knock on the veterans' home or apartment, whever the veteran is. And they [VA] said, "Oh, that's a good idea." And we're just so brilliant that way. And so they said, "Okay," and they got back to us and said, "Yes, we've knocked on the doors." And then we kept asking, "Okay of those you've identified and you've knocked on their doors, have each of these veterans been informed that they can get treatment, have they turned the treatment down?" And I understand that there are privacy concerns. We're not asking for their names and their addresses. But they cannot tell us -- at least they haven't told us. They have not told us, "This is the pool. These have been notified. These are under care." We have no degree of confidence that they are in fact getting care. We don't have to force someone to get care but we're talking about community health problems if these veterans don't get the care. So it's not just that veteran, it impacts the entire community. You can't force them to get care but you can certainly work with that veteran to have that veteran understand how serious this is, how it can impact the community, and let us know that those veterans are indeed getting care. But I want you to understand how frustrated we are that we have these meetings once and again and honestly we're saying, "This is water." And they'll say, "Well okay, this is water." And it's very patronizing to us because we know that they must know more. I pray that they know more than they are telling us. I pray that the veterans are getting the treatment that they're getting. But they're not telling us. So I'd like to say with a degree of confidence to my constituents, "This problem really has been worked out after all of these years." And I don't have that confidence but I thank Miss Wilson for everything and Mr. Rivera, Mr. Diaz-Balart. We're all united. We have a very united delegation on this. And I thank the Chairman and the Ranking Member for being such fearless leaders on this. I'd like to see if you [VA] could answer those questions. Are we going to do another review in Miami, do you have a degree of confidence that every at-risk individual has been identified, that there's been some follow up care? That everything really is what it should? And if it turns out that it isn't, what then? Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Dr. Robert Petzel: Thank you, Congresswoman. I can answer those questions. First let me -- let me start with the last. We can provide you with information, again, not specific names, about the number of people that have been contacted, the number of people that are under care and that's-that's available and we will certainly get that to you. The second thing is when they're notified, part of that notification is -- involves what are the consequences of this potential exposure. And what are the remediations? So that if somebody feels as if this was indeed the cause of their contracting HIV or Hepatitis C they have a legal remedy and every single person that we notify that's positive is told about that uh legal remedy. Uh, in terms of the --
US House Rep Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: And let me ask you, when you say, "We'll get you that," that's the same thing that happens to us when we meet with them. They'll say they can get it to us as if we were meeting on what to order for lunch. I mean that is the purpose of our meeting so that is the information we want. And then, after every meeting, they say, "We'll get you that info." So that is the purpose of what we want. All of those individuals without any names, where are they getting care.
Dr. Robert Petzel: We can get that to you within a week.
As she noted, that information is the purpose of the hearing. There should be no "we'll get it to you."
And here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"