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Witness Testimony of Hon. Jeff Miller, Chairman, Full Committee on Veterans' Affairs

The Committee will come to order.

Good morning and welcome to today’s Full Committee hearing “Sacred Obligation: Restoring Veteran Trust and Patient Safety.”

Before we begin, I would like to ask unanimous consent for our colleagues Lacy Clay from Missouri, Jerry Costello from Illinois, Blaine Luetkemeyer from Missouri, Ros-Lehtinen from Florida, John Shimkus from Illinois, Mike Turner from Ohio, and Frederica Wilson from Florida to sit at the dais and participate in today’s proceedings.

Hearing no objection, so ordered. Thank you all for joining us.

We, as a Nation, put our trust in the men and women who serve in our Armed Forces to protect us and our freedoms.  And, in return, our servicemembers put their trust in us to provide them with the highest quality health care.  

However, incident after incident of serious patient safety violations in VA medical facilities across the Nation in locations such as Dayton, St. Louis, and Miami, resulting in thousands of veterans across the country receiving notification of their potential risk for infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis, shatters the very trust veterans should have in us.

After each of these incidents, the VA assured Congress, and the country, that it was aggressively addressing patient safety issues and never again would a veteran’s trust be compromised by lapses in quality care at a VA medical facility. And yet, each patient safety incident has seemingly led the way for the next “lessons learned” and the unacceptable and inexcusable revelation that the patient safety culture in VA is fractured and accountability and leadership at the helm are lacking.

The time for talk is over. VA must confront these issues head on, deepen the obligation to care for the veterans affected by these incidents, and make the necessary changes within the VA health care system to prevent any future incidents that would put veteran patients at risk.

To that end, at this hearing today we will address in depth the efficacy of VA’s patient safety policies and VA leadership’s ability to provide adequate oversight of its medical facilities.

Further, we will explore the development of proactive strategies for addressing the issues that underlie the lapses we’ve seen in patient safety including the need for: (1) improvements in reprocessing of reusable medical equipment; (2) systematic ways for VA to limit the activities of suspect practitioners; and (3) better and more consistent risk management and notification processes for veteran patients when incidents do occur.

It is unconscionable that any one of our veterans should ever be exposed to infectious diseases because of the care they receive at a VA medical facility.  

I want to assure all of you that this Committee will be tireless in its oversight to ensure that VA lives up to its creed to provide only the very best – and the very safest – care anywhere.

I thank you all for joining us for this important and on-going discussion.

Before I yield to the Ranking Member, I’d like to remind witnesses that testimony is due no later than 48 hours in advance of a Committee or Subcommittee hearing.  I am told the DAMA Subcommittee did not receive VA testimony until late yesterday in preparation for today’s 8:00 a.m. hearing.  That is inexcusable. 

In addition, I and other Committee members submitted a series of questions seven weeks ago in relation to VA’s FY2012 budget request, yet no responses have been received.  I would ask those here from VA today to please convey my disappointment about this performance and my expectation that things will improve in the very near future.  I yield to the Ranking Member.