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Hon. Steve Cohen

The Honorable Steve Cohen

Thank you, Chairman Miller, for allowing me to submit a statement into the record for today’s hearing on preventable veteran deaths.  While I do not sit on the VA Committee, today’s hearing touches on an issue that unfortunately has affected veterans and their families in my home of Memphis, Tennessee.  I appreciate the Committee for accepting my statement.

In October 2013, the VA Office of Inspector General released a concerning report regarding three deaths at the Memphis VA Medical Center Emergency Department.  The report, which was based on a May 29-31, 2013 site visit, found that certain actions and inactions taken by physicians at the VA may have contributed to the death of the veterans mentioned in the report.  I do not dispute the report’s findings but instead am interested in learning what Congress and our VA medical centers can do to help prevent incidents like these from reoccurring in my home and at VA medical centers across America.

As soon as this report was released, I sent a letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki raising my concerns about its findings as well as those of my constituents.  In the same spirit of learning what can be done to prevent avoidable deaths at VA medical centers, in my letter I also invited the Secretary to visit the Memphis facility to meet with Memphis veterans and hospital staff.  I asked that he offer any suggestions that would improve care at the Memphis VA center – whether it be increased funding, personnel, technology or equipment.

While I am waiting to hear back from the Secretary’s office regarding my invitation, I hope that the witnesses present at this hearing will offer corrective actions that can be taken to improve care at VA medical centers.  I am also interested in their suggestions for incorporating standards of care at these facilities so that preventable deaths do not occur in the future.

I have been in close contact with Director C. Diane Knight at the Memphis VA Medical Center, who was appointed in July 2013.  While the deaths and the IG site visit occurred prior to her leadership, I am confident that the reforms she has put into place since becoming director and in light of the report will greatly improve patient care at the facility.  I hope that the witnesses’ testimonies will reflect this and again, offer constructive suggestions for how we all can work to improve conditions at the VA medical center in Memphis and across America.  Our veterans bravely risked their lives for us and we owe them the very best care we can offer.

Mr. Chairman, again, thank you for accepting my statement and I look forward to reviewing the testimonies.