Isakson, Chambliss press for answers on Atlanta VA issues
by The Associated Press
June 07, 2013 12:11 AM | 974 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
ATLANTA — Georgia’s U.S. senators are asking for answers from the head of Veterans Affairs after an audit report outlined troubling problems at the Atlanta VA Medical Center.

Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss wrote to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, asking the VA to investigate problems with inpatient and contracted outpatient mental health care at the hospital.

An Inspector General audit in mid-April reported a patient in need of mental health care committed suicide and two others who needed care died of drug overdoses. The senators’ letter asks the agency to provide information on its progress in correcting the problems, to prevent the needs of other veterans from being overlooked in the future in Atlanta and at other facilities.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) joined the Georgia Republicans in their inquiry, Lauren Culbertson, a spokeswoman for Isakson said in a release Thursday. Isakson is a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and Chambliss is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Burr is the ranking Republican on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

“We fear that this lack of oversight might exist in other VAMC across the country. We believe the mismanagement of the mental health programs at the Atlanta VAMC provides an opportunity to explore the lessons learned and to ensure that the same mistakes are not repeated anywhere else in the country,” one of the letters read.

The senators have asked what tools the Atlanta VA Medical Center will use to track the performance of the facility’s inpatient mental health unit since it implemented an action plan in response to the Inspector General report.

Other lawmakers have voiced concerns as well.

“It’s not just Atlanta. There are issues throughout the United States,” Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) chair of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, told the Associated Press in late May.

Atlanta VA Medical Center officials say they have made strides toward addressing issues raised in the reports — which included requiring visitors to be supervised and closer patient monitoring. The facility serves some 87,000 veterans with an operating budget of more $500 million.

The interim director has been replaced. A former deputy assistant secretary, Leslie B. Wiggins, has been brought in to take over.
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