VA Hospitals Beset With Problems
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON (AP) -- 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
The investigation, ordered two weeks ago by VA Secretary Jim
Nicholson, is the first topdown review of the facilities conducted
since the disclosure of squalid conditions at Walter Reed Army
A copy of the report was provided to The Associated Press.
The report found that 90 percent of the 1,100 problems cited were
deemed to be of a more routine nature: worn-out carpet, peeling
paint, mice sightings and dead bugs at VA centers.
The other 10 percent were considered serious and included mold
spreading in patient care areas. Eight cases were so troubling they
required immediate attention and follow-up action, according to the
Some of the more striking problems were found at a VA clinic in
White City, Ore. There, 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 Mexican Wing-tailed 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
In response, Nicholson this week ordered ''immediate corrective
action'' to fix problems, with full accounting provided to the VA.
He noted that an overwhelming majority of the issues were normal
''wear and tear'' items.
In many cases where there were roof leaks or mold, officials had
begun action to order patches or repairs, the department said. In
some instances, they were moving to new facilities.
''The level of detail in the reports and the corrective actions
enumerated demonstrate your responsiveness to my request,''
Nicholson wrote in an order Monday to VA medical center directors.
In interviews, VA officials said they were somewhat reassured by the
report, which they said indicated no red flags rising to the level
of problems at outpatient facilities at Walter Reed in Washington,
D.C., one of the premier facilities for treating those wounded in
Iraq and Afghanistan.
Walter Reed is a military hospital run by the Defense Department.
Critics long have said problems of military care extend to the VA's
vast network, which provides supplemental health care and
rehabilitation to 5.8 million veterans.
''There was no imminent threat of harm to patients,'' said Louise
Van Diepen, chief of staff to VA's acting undersecretary for health,
Michael Kussman. ''We have no indication to lead us to believe there
is a smoking gun.''
''Could it happen? Yes. But we're doing everything we can
prospectively to monitor the situation,'' she said.
Three high-level Pentagon officials have been forced to step down
after the disclosures last month at Walter Reed. The controversy
also has led to investigations by congressional committees, a
presidential task force and the Pentagon.
A separate review of the VA system for handling disability claims is
under way to determine how to cut through bureaucratic delays,
confusing paperwork and long appeals process as thousands of
veterans return home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Investigators this month determined that the system was strained to
its limit, with backlogs of more than 400,000 and delays and appeals
that could take years.