Hearing to Air VA Mistakes With Hospital Equipment

On Tuesday, a congressional panel will hear from top Department of Veterans' Affairs officials concerning the possible exposure of 10,000 veterans to HIV and hepatitis. The House Committee on Veterans' Affairs oversight and investigation subcommittee will discuss mistakes involving improperly sanitized endoscopy equipment at three VA facilities and examine a yet-unreleased report by the agency's inspector general.

Veterans who underwent colonoscopies and other procedures at VA facilities in Murfreesboro, Tenn., Miami, and Augusta, Ga., some as long ago as 2003, were asked to get tested for HIV and hepatitis following the discovery in February that endoscopic equipment had been improperly cleaned. To date, six of the veterans have tested positive for HIV, 34 for hepatitis C, and 13 for hepatitis B. All but 724 of the roughly 10,000 affected patients have been notified of test results.

Rep. Phil Roe (Tenn.), the ranking Republican on the subcommittee and a physician, said he wants to know whether the problems were isolated to the three facilities or were more widespread. Roe said he was told in a Friday briefing that the VA's inspector general conducted random checks at 42 VA centers. Agency officials have said problems were discovered at more than a dozen other facilities, but these did not warrant follow-up blood tests for patients.

When the VA initially learned of the mistake at Murfreesboro, it launched a nationwide safety "step-up" of all of its 153 medical centers. Since then, the problems have been addressed with all VA staff and the equipment's manufacturer, Olympus American. Roe commended the VA for being open and keeping patients and the public informed of the situation.