Poor Care Costs Veterans' Lives at Marion, IL, Veterans' Hospital

Last year, "Walter Reed" became a rallying cry for the veterans' movement. This year, it may be "Marion, Illinois."
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Last year, "Walter Reed" became a rallying cry for the veterans' movement. This year, it may be "Marion, Illinois."

In June 2007, a combat-disabled Vietnam veteran went to the VA hospital in Marion, IL, complaining of chest and abdominal pain. Tests quickly revealed he had suffered a ruptured spleen and needed urgent surgery. After the operation, his heart blood pressure fell dangerously. He desperately needed an immediate blood transfusion. Adequate blood was prepared for this patient, but because the transfusion was administered too late, the patient died.

According to a recent VA Inspector General's report, this is just one of the 19 deaths in the last two years that were linked to substandard care at the Marion VA. Among the IG's conclusions:

• The surgical specialty at the Marion VA was "in disarray." There were serious problems with the quality of care before, during and after surgery.

• Oversight at the hospital was "fragmented and inconsistent."

• There were serious "deficiencies in the credentialing of physicians." In multiple instances, "physicians were privileged to perform procedures without any documentation of current competence to perform those procedures."

The VA has taken steps to resolve the scandalous treatment of veterans at this hospital. VA leadership has apologized to the families of the victims, and is assuring the public that this was an isolated incident.

I've heard reassurances from Administration officials before: that the VA budget is adequate, that troops with PTSD are getting screened and treated, and that the scandal at Walter Reed would be resolved. The Marion VA may be a single bad apple in a good hospital system. In fact, veterans' organizations agree that VA care is some of the best health care available in this country. But it could also be the canary in the coal mine. Our VA system is severely stretched and under-resourced. And I'm skeptical of any official telling me veterans are going to get what they need without a fight.

As we were with the Walter Reed fiasco, IAVA will be out in front, ensuring that this latest scandal is resolved. And our commitment doesn't flag. Long after the story fades from the headlines, IAVA follows up, tracking the results and holding politicians' feet to the fire if they leave the job unfinished.

We've just released a new series of in-depth reports covering the five most urgent issues facing America's new generation of veterans and their families, including everything from equipment shortages to treatment for Traumatic Brain Injury. These groundbreaking reports provide all Americans with comprehensive and easy-to-read overviews of the five most critical issues facing veterans in 2008. Reporters, legislators and activists should print them out and tack them to the wall above their desks right now. We hope you'll have a look, and encourage your representatives in Washington to do so as well.

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