VA study discovers problems at many facilities
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs' vast network of 1,400 health clinics and hospitals is beset by maintenance problems such as mold, leaking roofs and even a colony of bats, an internal review says.
The investigation, ordered two weeks ago by VA Secretary Jim Nicholson, is the first major review of the facilities conducted since the disclosure of squalid conditions at some outpatient facilities at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
A copy of the report was provided to The Associated Press.
Democrats newly in charge of Congress called the report the latest evidence of an outdated system unable to handle a coming influx of veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Investigators earlier this month found that the VA's system for handling disability claims was strained to its limit.
"Who's been minding the store?" said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. "They keep putting Band-Aids on problems, when what the agency needs is major triage."
The review was conducted by directors of individual VA facilities around the country and compiled in a 94-page report to Nicholson. It found that 90 percent of the 1,100 problems cited at VA centers were deemed routine, such as worn-out carpeting, peeling paint, mice sightings and dead insects.
The other 10 percent were considered serious and included mold spreading in patient-care areas. Eight cases were so troubling they required immediate attention and follow-up action.
Some of the more striking problems were found at a VA clinic in White City, Ore. There, officials reported roof leaks throughout the facility, requiring them to "continuously repair the leaks upon occurrence, clean up any mold presence if any exists, spray or remove ceiling tiles."
In addition, large colonies of bats lived outside the facility and sometimes flew into the attics and interior of the building.
Also Wednesday, the House directed the Veterans Affairs Department to develop a program dealing with suicide risk among veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other depression issues.
A bill passed 423-0 orders the VA to set up a program to screen all veterans who receive medical care at VA facilities for suicide risk factors and refer at-risk veterans for counseling and treatment. It says the program should include staff training, research into suicide prevention and creation of a 24-hour hotline for veterans wanting to discuss their problems.
The House also unanimously passed bills to increase benefits for veterans who lose their sight in one eye due to a service-connected event, and to enact an annual cost-of-living increase for benefits of veterans with service-related disabilities. The Senate has yet to consider the bills.
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