VA Offers Free Care to Vets Who Might Have Been Infected in Miami Hospital

Richard Cohen, president of the National Organization of Veterans' Advocates, said the VA pledge of no-cost medical care -- included in a letter received Wednesday by a congressman -- promises nothing ``that the VA wouldn't do if these veterans were not subjected to unsanitary devices.''

During a colonoscopy, a flexible tube called an endoscope carries a light and camera into the intestines to look for possibly cancerous tumors or polyps. The endoscope also has a channel that carries water to clear the vision for the camera.

In some cases, the pump and reservoir that are used to move the water were rinsed after being used but were not disinfected as required, VA officials said.

According to the VA's website, seven veterans have tested positive for HIV among former patients exposed to mistakes with rigging or cleaning endoscopic equipment at VA hospitals in Miami, Murfreesboro, Tenn., and Augusta, Ga.

Such equipment is used for colonoscopies and other procedures

An additional 48 veterans among about 10,000 who have received follow-up blood checks have tested positive for hepatitis B or C.

The VA and independent doctors say those rates of infection are far below what would normally be found among similar populations, and a top VA doctor has said there is no way to trace the infections to VA mistakes.

John R. Gingrich, chief of staff to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, said in the letter to U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tennessee, that VA hospitals would provide plans of medical care and treatment at no cost.

An aide to Gordon wrote in an e-mail that before Wednesday, ``it was unclear if infected veterans would have to pay the $50 co-payments each time they received treatment as [is] . . . normally required.'

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