- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 13, 2017

So — let’s get this right.

The Department of Veterans Affairs system of hospitals and clinics, America’s leading health care system for military veterans, is front-page news again.

Not because of major problems in, say, Phoenix, with its “secret” waiting lists for veterans seeking services, and not because the Legionella bacteria is plaguing a VA hospital in Pittsburgh — again.

In both those cases, regional mismanagement could easily be considered the source of those problems. Now, however, the source of the problem is the VA itself. Indeed, the fact that the VA’s flagship local hospital in the nation’s capital is risking the health of some of our nation’s most honorable heroes speaks volumes.

Mismanagement is part of the problem. Yet the general conditions at the Washington, D.C., VA Medical Center are filthy and in disarray as well, according to a new report.



Here’s some of a summary report released Wednesday by the Department of Veteran Affairs’ Office of the Inspector General, which said the current state of care placed patients at “unnecessary risk.”

In March, for example, the D.C. medical center ran out of bloodlines for dialysis treatment, and could only perform the procedures after borrowing supplies from a private hospital. Chemical strips used to verify equipment sterilization had expired a month earlier, meaning sterilization tests performed on nearly all items were unreliable.

In June 2016 a surgeon used expired equipment during a procedure, the IG report found. In April of that year, four prostate biopsies were canceled because there were no tools to extract the tissue samples, and in February 2016 a tray used in the repair of jaw fractures was removed from the VA hospital because of an outstanding invoice to a vendor.

These are unconscionable situations in and of themselves. That they were uncovered within a 10-minute ride from VA headquarters and a few blocks from the White House is unconscionable.

As with the “secret” waiting list at the Phoenix VA hospital, a tip is credited with drawing blood on the embattled VA health care system.

It’s not just the D.C. facility. The Pittsburgh VA center has some serious problems of its own.

An outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease left five people dead and at least 22 patients infected in 2011 and 2012. Improper protocols were a part of the problem. Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr., Pennsylvania Democrat, even cited a “clear lack of understanding at VA facilities across the country about proper protocol when testing for Legionella.”

Well, Mr. Casey, what say you now?

This winter, the Legionella bacteria was found in VA sinks in an outpatient clinic, some water supply lines and in an administrative unit that was not being used.

Legionella can easily be spread by people who inhale droplets of airborne bacteria. People with compromised immune systems, including VA patients receiving dialysis, are especially at risk.

Sure, it’s a good thing that the bacteria was discovered. It’s not a good thing, however, that the Pittsburgh facility is still troubled by it.

VA Secretary Dr. David J. Shulkin has a massive challenge on his hands, overseeing the gamut of the health care delivery for 9 million veterans at 1,700 hospitals and clinics.

The Trump administration must get this right.

Deborah Simmons can be contacted at [email protected]

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