At the end of March, 2011, I had moved to St. Louis and wanted to update my address with the Veteran’s Administration. As I opened the door of the Veteran’s Administration Medical Center, I entered the Twilight Zone. I told my representatives in Washington D.C. about my experience. Congressman Todd Akin responded.
Thank you for contacting me regarding the recent medical issues that have occurred at the John Cochran VA Medical facility. I appreciate your thoughts and concerns.
As you may know, in June 2010 the Missouri congressional delegation was notified that the dental unit at John Cochran put thousands of veterans at risk by failing to follow proper procedures. A few weeks ago, Congress learned that all surgical procedures at John Cochran had been suspended because “irregularities” were discovered. If either of these two incidents were unique cases from an otherwise well-run hospital, we in Congress and the veterans who use these facilities would be concerned.
Sadly, this is all too consistent with the experience my constituents have repeatedly reported to me over the past decade. And, despite years of being promised improvements, most recently in July of last year by Dr. Robert Petzel and then acting Director Rimaann Nelson, with few exceptions, none seem to have materialized as is proven by the recent issues.
I recently wrote a letter to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. I informed him that I was aware of veterans that now travel hours out of their way to seek treatment at other VA hospitals because they actually fear for their lives were they to return to John Cochran.
I believe that until there is a serious, public reform of the St. Louis VAMC, including holding senior staff accountable, we in Congress cannot in good conscience seek additional funding and support expanded programs at a VA medical center that does not perform its current mission. If John Cochran were a ship or a military unit, the commander would have already been relieved and a comprehensive Inspector General investigation would have been launched.
Over the years we have heard from veterans that have extolled the virtues of the VA hospital they have used in other parts of the country. You and I both simply want the St. Louis VAMC to be a place whose virtues we are pleased to extol.
I assure you that this problem has my full attention and I will continue to keep the press on the administration of Veterans Affairs until John Cochran is a place that is safe, respected and most importantly capable to properly treat those great Americans who have sacrificed so much for this country.
Member of Congress