Thursday, May 30, 2013

Mayflower residents learn about possible legal action

From:  The Log Cabin

FCCAG hosts second town hall

Sixty days after the ExxonMobil Pegasus Pipeline broke, spilling barrels of Wabasca crude oil into the Mayflower community, the Faulkner County Citizens Advisory Group held a town hall meeting to discuss the spill and the impact it has had on the community.
The meeting, held May 29, hosted several discussions about health, legal action and wildlife concerns.
David Lincoln, environmental geologist with Sierra Club, suggested the people of Mayflower look into a Qualified Settlement Fund.
“It’s a trust that the IRS says can be created to distribute funds for settlement and it is a trust that is run entirely by the community,” Lincoln said.
Qualified Settlement Funds have been used in other instances, including in Danversport, Mass., where a paint factory exploded after the steam heater was left on over the Thanksgiving holiday in 2006.
Lawyer Jan Schlichtman helped the Danversport community with their Qualified Settlement Fund, and Schlichtman video conferenced with the Mayflower town hall meeting Wednesday, answering questions and explaining more about the special trusts he has helped set up for victims of several disasters.  MORE

"Backlog of disability claims not only problem facing this agency."

Part VI of a series
by Nicholas J. Vocca

U.S. District Judge Adalberto Jordan ruled in favor of Air force veteran Robert Metzler and his wife by awarding them $1.25-million on Wednesday, November 12, 2012, as compensation in their medical malpractice suit against the U.S. government after Mister Metzler had become infected with Hepatitis C when personnel at the Miami, Florida VA Hospital failed to properly clean colonoscopy equipment prior to performing that procedure on him.

According to the Veterans Affairs own Administrative Review Board, Metzler was one of more than 11,000 veterans who had received colonoscopies with improperly cleaned equipment between 2004 and 2009 at VA Hospitals in Miami, Florida, Mufreesboro, Tennessee, and Augusta, Georgia.

Metzler, who received his colonoscopy in 2007, had tested negative for Hepatitis C the year before.  Then, in 2009, he tested positive for the virus two days after receiving a letter from the VA warning him of being a "potential risk" related to the equipment used in his procedure.

The U.S. Attorney's office defending the VA acknowledged the Miami VA Hospital had "breached" a "duty of reasonable care," but denied the equipment caused any health problems.  If this were so, and there were no risks of any health problems related to the colonoscopy equipment used, why then did the VA send out warning letters?

In his testimony, Doctor David Nelson, a board-certified doctor in internal medicine, said that there was a "less than 0% chance" that Metzler contacted Hepatitis C through his colonoscopy, according to court records.

Despite acknowledging that the records from the Veterans Affairs "strongly suggest" that Metzler couldn't have been infected by the colonoscopy, Judge Jordan said that the veteran had no other risks associated with contracting the virus.

"I realize that the chances of acquiring Hepatitis C under these circumstances are slight.  But I find that there is nothing to preclude Mister Metzler from being one of those two persons in a trillion or billion who do get the virus," Jordan wrote.

On the website, it was reported on April 2, 2009, that the Miami VA was "warned by the Department of Veterans Affairs about potential problems with the colonoscopy equipment," and asserted that "the hospital checked its equipment and reported everything fine...that is, until a more extensive review later found problems."

The potential problem was first brought to the fore on December 22, 2008, when the VA issued a patient safety alert to every VA medical center and clinic, warning them of possible contamination problems with colonoscopy equipment based on reported incidents at the VA Hospital in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where it was discovered that subject equipment was being cleaned at the end of the day, instead of after each procedure.

In January, 2009, the Miami VA Hospital once again reported that everything was fine.

Over a three-day period starting February 10, 2009, a total of 7,500 veterans in Augusta, Georgia and the Alvin C. York VA Hospital in Murfeesboro, Tennessee were sent warning letters.  According to records, those from the Murfreesboro VA received letters informing them that "improperly assembled equipment" might have exposed them to cross-contamination between April 23, 2003, and December 1, 2008. 

In February, 2009, the Augusta VA warned 1,100 patients that they may been exposed to the Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and even HIV, during endoscopic procedures at its ear, nose, and throat clinic between January and November of 2008.

Between March 8 and 14 of this year, the U.S. department of Veterans Affairs issued updated alerts to all hospitals and clinics directing them to check again for improper procedures and establish new training protocols.

During the course of a second inspection at the Miami VA, more problems were found...2-months after that hospital had issued an "all clear" statement.

On March 23, Miami sent letters to 3,260 more veterans with regard to possible infectious diseases from colonoscopy procedures.

While it has been reported that the 16 veterans who tested positive for the hepatitis virus between the Murfreesboro and Augusta VA Hospitals have yet to be proven as being directly linked to the colonoscopy and endoscopy debacle, the fact remains that 16 out of 11,000 have been infected, and this ratio of infected individuals is much worse than the previously reported odds.

No veteran has tested for HIV, so far.  However, Hepatitis B represents a serious infection, and Hepatitis C can be fatal.

At the Murfreesboro VA, four veterans have tested positive for Hepatitis B, and 6 for the deadly Hepatitis C. 

Though VA spokeswoman Katie Roberts stated that "We take full accountability" in putting these veterans at risk, she did not say whether the VA would be willing to pay for treatment.  Neither did she reveal if the VA would be prepared to pay compensation damages.

In its editorial on this issue, the Miami Herald called the oversight "stunning and completely unacceptable.  Putting lives at risk through carelessness is inexcusable."

Meanwhile, veterans and their families are incensed at how the mere act of attempting to be proactive about one's health has potentially put them at risk, and further fumed about how it took the both the Department of Veterans Affairs and individual VA Hospitals several years to detect this life-threatening problem.

"Veterans who attend VA clinics and hospitals as a way of being proactive about their health should not be exposed to potentially life-threatening diseases because of the carelessness and negligence of VA personnel to adhere to sound medical and sterilizations procedures," wrote one angry veteran.

Another veteran says that these "disturbing incidents" certainly give "new meaning to how the VA has long shoved it up the rear of our nation's men and women who served it."

We agree.

Is there verbal, physical, and emotional abuse in our nation's VA Hospitals, and have VA employees dealt drugs to veterans?  We shall see in our next part of the series.

After Memorial Day – Three Stories for Freedom and Justice - Story One

by Melinda Pillsbury-Foster 

William Penn
It was August, 1670. Charles the II wanted William Penn found guilty and executed. Penn was 26.

This was a hinge moment for American history, inspiring people yet unborn because they remembered. The Trial of William Penn, his co-defendant William Mead is generally overlooked, were caught preaching their Quaker beliefs at Gracechurch Street in London to more than five people, in violation of the King's Law.

Charles, who had endured years of exile before regaining the throne at the death of Cromwell, wanted no more of these dangerous ideas about freedom of religion circulating in his realm. The court was ordered to handle the matter.

The trial came to an unexpected resolution, establishing the principle of jury nullification in English law.

Edward Bushnell, a wealthy man who owned a shipping enterprise, served as foreman. As the jury listened, Penn spoke out, demanding to be heard, see the charges laid against him, and be allowed to question his accusers. These rights, guaranteed in common law, were denied him. The court watched as Penn was gagged and consigned to a corner of the courtroom.

Bushnell and three fellow jurors, as Englishmen, considered both the facts and the justice of the charges being made.

These four members of the jury refused to find the accused men guilty. The outraged judge promptly ordered them locked up 'in the hole,' of Newgate Prison, and denied, “victuals, drink, and tobacco,” for nine weeks. They were tortured and threatened with large fines. After fighting their incarceration from jail with a Writ of Habeas Corpus  they were released, emerging soaked in urine and smeared with feces.

Penn and Mead walked free. Penn took ship for Germany, continuing, with other Quakers, to work for a new vision for humanity. Penn's work in the New World included free and fair trial by jury, freedom of religion, freedom from unjust imprisonment, and free elections.

In 1681 King Charles ceded the land, now Pennsylvania, to Penn to clear the debt still owed to Penn's father.

More than a century later, this work would inspire the representatives who signed the Declaration of Independence, and those who wrote the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Our Nation was built from the ideas and actions of individuals, like Bushnell and his fellow jurors, who faced battles in life. Some fight in war, but many of the most important conflicts are determined on the battlefield of conscience.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Vets advocate: Obama must ‘step up’ to shrink disability benefits backlog

From:  Yahoo News 

Top Line
With nearly 900,000 veterans waiting to hear from the Veterans Administration about disability benefits claims—and the average wait time stretching to almost 300 days—the advocacy group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) is calling on the president to make policy changes that will help diminish the backlog.
IAVA’s Chief Policy Officer Tom Tarantino tells Top Line that, while the White House says President Obama is keeping a close eye on the situation, veterans needs proof that real change is on the horizon.
“What we need is the commander-in-chief to step up and say ‘Look, there is a plan,’” Tarantino tells Top Line, “and we have to articulate a plan that's actually measurable so that those of us in the veteran’s service community, as well as every vet out there, can actually see how we're going to go from point A to point B to point C and get rid of the backlog.”
Tarantino explains that the backlog of veterans waiting for the VA to respond to their disability claims is due in large part to an outdated processing system.
“Right now you have 97% of the claims at the VA still on paper,” he explains, “they are transitioning to an electronic record system by the end of the year. But the problem is we still have nearly 600,000 claims that are sitting right now.”
The struggle to attain disability benefits isn’t new to the veterans’ community, but Tarantino says the “decades-old” problem has gotten much worse in recent years. Veterans currently on the backlog wait an average of 273 days for the VA to process their claims, and Tarantino says some wait as many as 600 days for a response.  MORE

Monday, May 27, 2013

No holidays or parades for homeless women veterans

From:  Salon 

Meet America's fastest growing homeless population. The harrowing stories of women who served -- and were forgotten

No holidays or parades for homeless women veterans
EnlargeAn Army veteran at New Directions women's house, a program for female veterans dealing with issues of homelessness.(Credit: Reuters)
As we rightly commemorate those who perished while serving in the Armed Forces today, another group of veterans is getting little attention, and its numbers are swelling: homeless women veterans. In fact, while the problem among male veterans has dropped, homelessness among women veterans has risen sharply. It may come as a surprise, but women veterans are the fastest growing homeless population in the nation.
I recently completed production of a documentary, War Zone / Comfort Zone, in which I followed the story of two women — one of them a Gold Star mother — who fight to establish Connecticut’s first transitional, supportive house for women veterans. The women and their allies faced neighborhood opposition in several towns, and establishing a home with fifteen beds for women veterans and their children took more than four years. (A house in Delaware is currently facing a similar response.)
I also followed women veterans as they struggled to create stability for themselves and their families in the wake of war and trauma. Too many veterans — especially women — are falling into homelessness in record numbers and in record time.
Gladys is one who has struggled with homelessness and depression since she returned from Iraq. She is a funny, resourceful and generous person who grew up in a Colombian immigrant household in the Bronx. Gladys initially joined the Air Force to see the world and better herself — a pioneering move in the 1970s. She settled in Connecticut and worked for the U.S. Postal Service, and remained in the reserves for twenty years.
When Gladys turned forty, she wanted to challenge herself again and decided to join the Army Reserves, serving two tours of duty in the Iraq War. She suffered a traumatic brain injury and serious spinal damage, and spent a year recovering at Walter Reed Medical Center.
While in the hospital, she lost her house in a real estate deal gone bad. She returned to Connecticut, homeless, devastated and dependent on a walker.
“Every night I ended up finding a different spot,” Gladys said. She lived in her car and, unable to get the help she desperately needed, tried to commit suicide. She ended up sleeping on her ex-husband’s couch for a while, but they’ve since been evicted.  MORE

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Drones, the Final Weapon for the Military Industrial Complex

by Melinda Pillsbury-Foster 

Drones are a weapon of war, presently being used by the U.S. Military using assertions not supported by facts. These weapons are manufactured and sold to the military by companies which own the technologies and thereby profit. The right or wrong of the war is ignored in their calculations, which focus on the profit to be made.

The membership organization which lobbies for the use of drones for the corporations which comprise its membership is the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. The growth of this industry is now measured in the billions of dollars, with applications for drone usage growing out into law enforcement within the United States on a weekly basis.

These are facts, supportable by contracts reflecting sales.

Facts are generally inconvenient for parties attempting to 'win' the battle for public opinion. These facts are true for drone contractors today and were true of the Military Industrial Complex on January 17, 1961 when Dwight D. Eisenhower gave his farewell address, and warning about the influence of these corporations, to the American People.

Eisenhower warns us of the military industrial complex



Manufacturing opinion in Americans results in increased sales and a limiting of the options they see as possible. This is at the heart of the strategy by which the Multi-National Corporations have build their business plan from the time of World War I – present day.
Propaganda had been used to influence groups and nations for as long as we have recorded history. But the practice was codified with a set of rules by Edward Bernays, a cousin of Sigmund Freud, in the 1020s. There are seven principles of propaganda, which include:

Seven Main Principles
Bandwagon – Follow the Crowd.
Card stacking Tell them ONLY what you want them to know.
Glittering Generalities – Use words which let the listener fool themselves.
Name Calling - Negative, derogatory langauge to describe the enemy in speech, images, and writing.
Plain Folks – Taking on language, idioms, jokes, and accent to increase of the target audience to increase familiarity and elicit acceptance and trust.

Additional Principles
AssertionSay it, and say it again with conviction
Lesser of Two EvilsLimit the choices to this or that, ignoring all other possibilities.
Pinpointing the Enemy – Name an individual, group, or nation as the 'problem.' Ignore refuting facts.
Simplification (Stereotyping)Similar to Pinpointing. Ignore refuting facts.

The opinions held by Americans are largely the product of propaganda today, though this is now changing through access to the Internet.

Public Relations professionals know the public forgets about scandals, both corporate and politically, in only a few months or years. Today, major scandals of the early 90s have vanished from the collective memory. 

Main Stream Media 

Controlling the Main Stream Media, which is owned entirely my major corporations, ensured this would remain true. America originally saw independent journalism as an essential protection for the rights of the people. Newspapers were mostly owned locally, reflecting a diversity of voices.

Local 'government,' which was understood to be a service center used by the People, who together were and are the real government under American theory and law, was used to carry out those functions deemed of mutual benefit by the People. 

America's Foundations 

Until the rise of the Internet, Americans had, in large part, lost connection with their own history and the foundations for American government. A reading of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and survey of the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers shows this to be the case.

The rising power of corporations, asserting itself through government, began to change this in the late 1800s. World War I and World War II enormously enriched the same corporations and banks named by Eisenhower in his speech. A significant number of these were simultaneously in business with Nazi Germany before and during World War II and also Russia. In his book, “Creature from Jekyll Island,” G. Edward Griffin provides documentation for this.

Major General Smedley Butler was the most respected and decorated military figure in America in the first half of the 20th Century. Having spent his life serving his country as a Marine in wars dictated by the economic wishes of corporations for decades he realized he and the troops he commanded had been used by those corporations. In response, he wrote, “War is a Racket.”

VIDEO - Major General Smedley Butler & The Fascist Takeover Of The USA - A Warning From History



The General conveniently, and very suddenly, died in 1940 before our entry into World War II. War was building immense wealth within a small number of corporations, who were determined this flow of power and money continue. 

Wars for Profit 

The Second World War was opposed by Conservative Republican congressional leader Robert A. Taft, “who articulated a non-interventionist foreign-policy vision sharply at odds with the internationalism of Truman and Eisenhower. Although derided as ostrich-like, Taft was prescient on several points, such as the structural weakness of the United Nations and the propping up of repressive regimes that would result from U.S. interventionism.”

After World War II Conservatism was targeted by the Rockefeller Republicans, who today we know as NeoConservatives. To accomplish this they used an array of tools which included the C. I. A., an agency which recruited from a social elite who had strong connections to the corporate world.

Today, the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy on November 22, 1963, is credited to a cooperative effort between the C.I.A., and corporations in such first hand and authoritative books as “Mary's Mosaic, by Peter Janney. Janney is the son of Wistar Janney, a high level operative in the C. I. A. from close to the time of it's inception after World War II through the 1960s.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall the world appeared to be heading for a long-awaited peace. But this was not in alignment with the business plans of the Military Industrial Complex.

Managing American Fear

The public relations people for the corporations had used boogymen to persuade Americans to the necessity of war and vast expenditures in military spending from World War I until the Wall came down. For this purpose they had first vilified the 'Hun,' and then 'Communism.'

They chose a new boogyman in the last years of the Reagan Administration.

The Power of Nightmares,” produced by the BBC, digs into the history of the C.I.A., and its manipulation of Islam and placement of operatives to stymy their move toward liberalization, which threatened the oil companies. The issue of a threat from a radical Islam must be considered outside the narrowing confines of propaganda, the corporate tool used to herd Americans, keeping us within the limits which powers their profits. This is especially true for the strategies of Pinpointing the Enemy, and Stereotyping.


Big Oil 

If you identify the location of the major world sources of oil you will notice much of the world reserves are located in land controls by Islamic people. Until this became known Islam was never presented as a threat. Once this took place, this changed.

Multiple operations in these countries by the CIA and its corporate partners caused shifts in attitudes within the people living in these countries. Ron Paul, using the term coined by the CIA, called it “Blow-Back.” John Perkins, in his book,Confessions of an Economic Hit-Man,” explains the means used to defraud smaller nations of their natural resources, oil chief among these.

People resent being manipulated, bombed, and defrauded. Where we did not have enemies, they were created.

VIDEO - Confessions of an Economic Hit Man: How the U.S. Uses Globalization to Cheat Poor Countries Out of Trillions

For a century corporations have used the military and government of our country to make war on people around the world. They have done this for profit and without showing a shred of conscience.

Today, the world is fed up. If the roles were reversed, we would have taken action long since.
These same interests understand well Americans are waking from their long sleep. This why drone technologies are now being deployed within the United States.

"Is drone warfare in areas where civilians reside permitted?"

by Nicholas J. Vocca

Acting on the authorization of former President George W. Bush, a C.I.A.-controlled armed drone struck and killed a senior al-Qaeda lieutenant, Gaed Salim al-Harethi in the desert near Saan, Yemen, on November 3, 2002.

Though this was the first drone strike ever by the United States, it was not the first one in the history of war.

The Nazis targeted England with several thousand V1 "buzz bombs" and V2 rockets during World War II, and despite consistent criticism from the U.S. as practicing "extrajudicial murder," the Israelis have mainly used manned helicopters to launch missiles in what they call "focused foiling."

As for America's choice in using drones to fight the War on Terror, and whether these weapons are legal within the scope of the Geneva Convention's allowed weapons in a war where civilian casualties may result, the following should explain the answer(s):

The 1949 Geneva Convention IV:  "The presence of a protected person, (such as a civilian), may not be used to render certain parts or areas immune from military operations."

1977 Additional Protocol I, Article 57.1:  "The presence of civilians shall not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations."  

Long before drones were developed, the use of unmanned missiles have been permitted in warfare, regardless of the collateral damage(s) they sometimes inflict on civilians.

That being said, let us examine some differences between the modern day drones and the historic use of field artillery as a weapon of war back to its first documented use on the battlefield in China in 1132 when Chen Gui used cannons to defend De'an from an attack by Jurchen Jin.

Artillery barrages depend more on 'spotters' who relay the estimated range of an enemy gun position, or other high-value targets, such as weapons storage facilities, fuel dumps, supply depots, and heavy troop concentrations to coordinate the firepower in order to destroy these.

With its dispersion pattern at the point of impact, artillery personnel most always have to fire off multiple rounds to assure a total target hit which often increases the potential for more civilian casualties.

Even with today's advanced field communications, the risks for human error in sending or receiving information on an accurate coordinate-point is sometimes hindered by the loud bursts of outgoing or incoming shells, radio jamming by the enemy, or the failure to transmit clear and concise fire orders when under hostile enemy fire.  As most know, it is these adverse conditions that have caused good soldiers to be killed by friendly fire, or entire villages nearby to be wiped out.

With their high-tech Multi-Spectral Targeting System camera and sensors, drones are the spotter that relay critical information about specific targets back to the command center where highly-trained professional targeting-cell operators confirm the lawfulness of a target before triggering the drone's missiles.

Though innocent civilians sometimes become collateral damage in a drone strike, the potentials for such are greatly minimized because drones only fire one or two G.P.S. or Laser-guided missiles.

Before commanders issue an order to authorize either a drone or artillery strike, their considerations in doing so must be balanced between the proportionate rate of civilian deaths or injuries that may occur and the military objectives they desire to achieve, just as the late-President Harry S Truman did when making his decision to use the Atomic Bomb on Japan.

In conventional ground warfare, the targeting of another human for extermination is based on their conduct.  If they are pointing a weapon at you, or pose any threat against you or those in your unit, that person is entitled to be sent away as an enemy combatant, regardless of their country of origin, including the United States.

Numerous U.S. citizens of German, Japanese or Italian descent went back to the country of their national heritage and fought against American and Allied Forces in WWII, and it was not considered illegal to wipe them off during an engagement.  Therefore, under the set rules of war, it is legal for the United States to kill an American citizen if they have left the country to fight with the enemy, or have somehow deserted their unit and defected to the other side.

Although the evidence supporting assertions that U.S.-born Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki was an al-Qaeda operational leader has not been made public, we hope to hear over time that the two-drone C.I.A.-controlled missile strike that killed him in September 2011 was justified in order to remove the cloud of suspicion claiming this incident was a war crime perpetrated to eradicate him because he spoke too long, and too much, when making subversive remarks about the United States.

Because America and its allies are fighting a war where the enemy wears no designated uniform and has thereby abandoned the traditional ways of making themselves known to opposing forces, along with the fact that Islamic law allows for every household to possess an AK-47 and sufficient ammunition to protect themselves, the decisions to detain or fire upon anyone carrying a weapon are, at the very best, very difficult for troops to make, unless the unit is ambushed, which is often the case.

A sad but honest realization about al-Qaeda and its offspring groups is that they are a very tenacious, ruthless, and stealthy opponent which peaceful nations should never take for granted, lest they themselves are fools and desire to one day be overrun by the sleeper cells these extremists have in every nation around the globe.

This is an enemy which has caused allies to re-think and revise their strategies repeatedly, and one where they have sometimes had to set aside traditional warfare tactics in order to contain these insurgents and gather necessary intelligence.

"War is hell," and it will be only through our firm resolve and continued vigilance that will prevail in keeping this devil on earth from reaching our doorsteps.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Deaths at Atlanta VA hospital prompt scrutiny


ATLANTA (AP) — One patient with a history of substance abuse and suicidal thoughts was left alone in a waiting room inside the Atlanta VA Medical Center, where he obtained drugs from a hospital visitor and later died of an overdose.
Another patient wandered the 26-acre campus for hours, picking up his prescriptions from an outpatient pharmacy and injecting himself with testosterone before returning voluntarily to his room.
The cases at the Atlanta VA Medical Center are the latest in a string of problems at Veterans Affairs facilities nationwide, prompting outrage from elected officials and congressional scrutiny of what is the largest integrated health care system in the country with nearly 300,000 employees.
"It's not just Atlanta. There are issues throughout the United States," said Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chair of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, who noted there are many hard-working employees within the VA but feels legislation is needed to reform operations nationwide.
In recent years, there have been inquiries into the Pittsburgh VA system after five people died of Legionnaire's disease and the Buffalo, N.Y., VA hospital, where at least 18 veterans have tested positive for hepatitis. There have also been whistleblower complaints ranging from improper sterilization procedures to radiology tests left unread at a VA facility in Jackson, Miss.
Meanwhile, the need continues to grow: In just the area of mental health, an estimated 13 percent to 20 percent of the 2.6 million service members deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. In fiscal year 2011, the VA served nearly 6.1 million patients at its 152 medical centers.
At the Atlanta VA Medical Center, two reports issued in mid-April by the Department of Veterans Affairs' Office of Inspector General detailed allegations of mismanagement and poor patient care linked to three deaths. The case of a fourth veteran was a turning point for Miller: A man in a wheelchair came to the Atlanta VA emergency room complaining of hearing voices but was not admitted and later found in a locked hospital bathroom dead of an apparent suicide.
Officials at the Atlanta VA Medical Center said they had already taken steps to address the issues cited 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, and a former deputy assistant secretary, Leslie B. Wiggins, has been brought in to take over.
"One of my primary goals is to ensure Atlanta has an environment that fosters physical and psychological safety," Wiggins said during a May 20 news conference.
Rep. David Scott, a Georgia Democrat whose district is served by the center, met with Wiggins and said he was impressed with her experience and hopeful changes would be made.
"This is your own inspector general coming out and clearly pointing out these things. We have four soldiers, veterans who are dead because of actions taken by or lack of actions taken by the management at that hospital," Scott said.
In one report, investigators found the Atlanta facility did not sufficiently address patient care safety, failed to monitor patients and did not have adequate policies for dealing with contraband, visitation and drug tests. In the case of the man who overdosed on drugs from a hospital visitor, the report said the man was searched when he returned to his room and given a drug test. However, it was later determined another patient had provided the urine. Investigators said the facility had not provided staff with a policy for collecting urine, which should include securing the bathroom or direct observation. Investigators also noted the unit had no written policy on patient visitors.
The report, which noted high patient satisfaction rates at the Atlanta facility, recommended the VA establish national policies addressing contraband, visitation, urine testing and escorts for inpatients of mental health units. The VA agreed and plans to implement those policies by Sept. 30.
A separate report linked two additional deaths to the facility and its referral program to outside mental health providers. Investigators noted the Atlanta VA Medical Center had referred more than 4,000 patients since 2010 but did not know the status of those patients.
"There is no case management or follow-up," said one unidentified staff member quoted in the April 17 report.
One patient who died had a long history of mental health issues including suicidal behavior. He was evaluated and prescribed medicine for depression. A follow-up appointment was scheduled for four weeks later, and the patient committed suicide during that time, according to the report.
Miller has drafted legislation would address mental health care within the VA system. It would require the VA to contract with civilian contractors for mental health care while also requiring the VA to keep closer tabs on patients after receiving care.
Veterans interviewed at the Atlanta facility on a recent afternoon defended the level of care being provided.
"I've had good treatment here and good care," said Lester Paulus, a 73-year-old retired Navy veteran from Canton, Ga., who received eye surgery and successful cancer treatment.
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