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Opening Statement of Hon. Jerry F. Costello, a Representative in Congress from the State of Illinois

I would like to thank Chairman Miller for holding today’s hearing to examine repeated lapses in patient safety at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities.  I look forward to hearing about the underlying issues causing these failures and what changes were implemented to ensure they do not happen again.

As I have said on numerous occasions, the dedicated efforts of VA employees and their strong commitment to quality care are an example of our country’s sincere promise to look after the brave men and women who have protected our nation for over two centuries.  Their compassion and expertise are an asset to the VA and I encourage the employees to remain diligent about communicating discrepancies in protocols.

Many of my constituents receive medical care from John Cochran Veterans Medical Center (VAMC) in St. Louis, Missouri, which was the subject of a July 2010 field hearing to examine lapses in cleaning reusable dental equipment.  This occurrence was disturbing by itself - putting the health of 1,812 veterans at risk - but to know that it is one of many instances in which the VA has failed to perform the basic duties of its daily operations is truly shocking.  For example, a March 7, 2011, VA Office of Inspector General (VA OIG) report on a site visit to John Cochran VAMC noted numerous inconsistencies remained after the July hearing, ranging from the unavailability of manufacturer’s instructions on how to clean reusable medical equipment (RME), insufficient staff training, and inadequate oversight.

Several other reports and investigations by the VA OIG and the General Accountability Office (GAO) have also identified continued breakdowns in management practices for VA and facility leadership.  Despite the fact that both the VA OIG and GAO indicate that policies and directives are in place, we are holding another hearing regarding repeated oversight and compliance failures that put patient safety in jeopardy.

These occurrences must stop and I implore the VA to work with Congress to implement the proper training and oversight necessary to limit these occurrences in the future, as we have been promised several times would happen by VA officials. 

Patient safety remains our top priority and our veterans deserve the very best care available.  Congress has a sacred obligation to ensure the VA has the resources necessary to fulfill this promise. 

I look forward to today’s testimony.