In the wake of the Walter Reed scandal, the first VA review of conditions in their own system has arrived. The Associated Press received a copy and reports:
The 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. ...
Democrats newly in charge of Congress called the report the latest evidence of an outdated system unable to handle a coming influx of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.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."
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The 94-page report found that the majority of the problems (90% of 1,100 reported) were categorized as 'routine' and easily fixed, ala "worn-out carpet, peeling paint, mice sightings and dead bugs." Ten percent were deemed 'serious' including:
[I]n White City, Ore., ... 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 resided outside the facility and sometimes flew into the attics and interior parts of the building. "Eradication has been discussed but the uniqueness of the situation (the number of colonies) makes it challenging to accomplish," according to the report, which said the bats were being tested for diseases. "Also, the bats keep the insect pollution to a minimum which is beneficial."
In other findings:
•In Oklahoma City, secondhand smoke from an outside smoking shelter sometimes infiltrated the building through the women's restroom.
•Deteriorating walls and hallways were common, requiring repair, patch and paint in 30 percent of patient areas in Little Rock, Ark.
•Numerous unspecified "environmental conditions" affected the quality of the building in New York's Hudson Valley, with the private landlord repeatedly refusing to fix problems. The VA is taking steps to relocate to another facility.
•Roof leaks or mold at facilities such as Hudson Valley; North Chicago, Ill.; Indianapolis; Puget Sound, Wash.; Portland, Ore; and Fayetteville, Ark.
Joe Davis, spokesman of Veterans of Foreign Wars, said, "We now expect these problems to be corrected immediately and not shelved due to insufficient funding or because the proper care and treatment of our wounded veterans is no longer in the national spotlight." Nicholson says "immediate corrective action" will be taken.
[UPDATE Mar 23 2007]: Download the full report [pdf], courtesy of Larry Scott's VAWatchdog.org.
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