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Bill Nelson Slams VA For Not Answering Reports of Vet's Deaths

The James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa is undergoing a $148 million expansion in order to meet the growing demand for veteran health care in Florida.

The Veterans Administration has been fending off reports that military veterans have died needlessly because of long waits and delayed care at veterans’ hospitals. Today, Florida Senator Bill Nelson came to Tampa - looking for answers.

Nelson got a couple of answers - but other bigger issues were still left hanging. Like whether it's true that least 19 veterans have died because of delays in simple medical screenings at various VA hospitals or clinics across the country.

What he did find out is that five of those deaths were veterans in the region defined as Florida and Puerto Rico. But none of those happened at Tampa's James A. Haley VA Hospital, where Nelson visited this afternoon.

"The system has got to be transparent, "he said after his visit. "They've got to open up and let people know where these mistakes are being made."

Nelson didn't have any information on whether any deaths were reported at the Bill Young VA Hospital at Bay Pines, in Pinellas County.

Nelson also fired off a letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. In response, Nelson says the VA has agreed to release a report answering some of the charges - in May.

Here's the text of his letter:


March 28, 2014

The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki

Secretary of Veterans Affairs

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

810 Vermont Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20420

Dear Secretary Shinseki:

I write to you today to express my concern about reports of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) lack of transparency and responsiveness regarding a number of deaths across the country in its facilities. 

The VA has acknowledged failures to follow through on endoscopy consults and other gastrointestinal procedures in an 18 month, a facility by facility review.  This internal document, provided by the House Veterans Affairs Committee lists patient deaths and injuries by Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN), a regional designation.  Specifically, in VISN 8, known as “The Sunshine VISN” because it encompasses Florida and Puerto Rico, there were 14 patient incidents of which five were deaths and nine were injuries.

Veterans across this country have a right to know about their local VA facility’s record of care.  They cannot be adequately served if they do not fully understand their benefits and in some cases, are not fully informed about the care they need.  

With that in mind, I would like to know which hospitals in VISN 8 reported patient deaths and injuries from September 2012 to the present.  Further, I would like to know what corrective action the VA has taken to address these incidences. 

Additionally, Congress’ oversight authority is greatly aided by the willing transparency of an agency as large as the VA.  The published accounts I’ve seen indicate that work still needs to be done to achieve this level of transparency and I ask you to re-energize those efforts.  

I know we both share the same desire to ensure that our veterans are given the highest quality care in every facility across the country.   I appreciate your attention to this matter.


Bill Nelson.



Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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