Veterans Affairs head blasts administration over hospital incident

The Democratic chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee lambasted the Obama administration over its handling of an incident at a St. Louis VA center in which more than 1,800 veterans were told they may have been exposed to HIV.

“It’s outrageous, one, that this happens, but even worse is this secretive, almost cover-up mode that they go into when something like this happens,” Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.) said on CNN Monday.

The Department of Veterans Affairs last month sent a letter to 1,812 patients informing them that they could have been exposed to HIV and other deadly viruses because of dental equipment that was insufficiently sterilized over a period of 13 months. The agency said the risk of infection was “extremely low,” but urged patients to return for blood tests. 

Filner criticized the administration for taking more than three months to send out the letters after it discovered the faulty safety precautions in March. “We should be much more caring not only about the procedures but the way we deal with them after they’re known,” the congressman said. He said it was “disgraceful” that Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki did not know about the lapse until last week. 

Filner said the “only way you can get accountability is if there is someone who actually pays a price for this,” although he did not explicitly call for Shinseki to be fired.

The Veterans Affairs Committee is holding a hearing on the issue next week.