WASHINGTON — Lawmakers criticized the Department of Veterans Affairs on Tuesday about why a national scare over botched colonoscopies earlier this year didn't prompt stronger safeguards at the agency's medical centers.
Agency officials apologized for the continued weaknesses and told a House subcommittee that they would do better. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said he was taking disciplinary action.
The reaction came as the agency's inspector general reported that fewer than half of VA facilities selected for surprise inspections last month had proper training and guidelines. That was months after the VA launched a nationwide safety campaign over the discovery of errors at facilities in Florida, Georgia and Tennessee that could have exposed veterans to HIV and other infections.
John Daigh, VA's assistant inspector general who led the review, said, "We think there are systemic issues."
Lawmakers expressed disbelief that medical centers didn't immediately tighten procedures.
"You certainly would think that after the initial discoveries and the directive from the VA that medical directors would make sure that all of their equipment and procedures were brought into line, and yet this investigation shows that many, many did not," said House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Filner, D-Calif., who praised the VA for being transparent about the mistakes.
In February, the VA began warning about 10,000 patients in Florida, Georgia and Tennessee — some who had colonoscopies and other endoscopic procedures as far back as 2003 — that they may have been exposed to infections. They were advised to get blood tests for HIV and hepatitis.
The agency says that six veterans who took the followup checks tested positive for HIV, 34 tested positive for hepatitis C and 13 tested positive for hepatitis B. But there is no way to prove whether the infections came from VA procedures.