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Marion Va-surgeries Still In Limbo



"Veterans Affairs head: Surgeries at Illinois facility still months away

MARION, Ill. (AP) — The head of the nation's Veterans Affairs system said Saturday it still could be months before inpatient surgeries resume at a southern Illinois hospital. But rehabbing the site's image after a surge in patient deaths last year may take far longer.

VA Secretary James Peake inspected the Marion VA hospital before heading a town hall meeting meant to assure the roughly 100 veterans and family members who turned out that the hospital and its new director — a Navy veteran with 16 years of VA experience — would make things right.

Some veterans appeared unconvinced, with one questioning why many of the Marion VA's former administrators were transferred or allowed to retire or resign instead of being "held accountable," perhaps with criminal charges.

"We don't do public floggings," Peake said. "The point is we moved forward with putting responsible people in leadership."

Peake also said federal regulations covering employees limited possible firings over the Marion VA's surgical troubles.

Surgeries were halted a year ago after nine deaths that investigators deemed "directly attributable" to substandard care at the Marion VA. Of an additional 34 cases the VA investigated, 10 patients died after receiving questionable care that complicated their health, officials have said. Investigators could not determine if the actual care caused those deaths.

Rep. Jerry Costello, an Illinois Democrat, told reporters Saturday he would push to have the government's final investigative findings sent to the Justice Department for consideration of criminal charges.

Some outpatient procedures resumed months ago at the Marion site. But Peake says the site still must hire a surgeon and a chief of staff, cautiously saying that might be done by the end of the year.

David Conrad, an 80-year-old Army veteran of the Korean War, said he's still unconvinced that the problems had been rectified at the Marion VA, which serves veterans from southern Illinois, southwestern Indiana and western Kentucky.

"I can't say I'm really satisfied," said Conrad, of Carbondale, after the public meeting. "I didn't hear a lot of specifics of what they did to fix the situation."

The VA's investigations of the surgical deaths often have been blistering, at times labeling the hospital's previous management as "dysfunctional and inefficient." A heavily redacted VA report in June also found bad employee morale stemming from various concerns including sexual harassment, forced retirements of elderly staff, the quality of patient care and the hiring of poor physicians.

Two Kentucky widows are suing the U.S. government, blaming their husbands' deaths last year on what they consider shoddy surgical care by Dr. Jose Veizaga-Mendez. Both lawsuits accuse the government of negligence for not adequately checking Veizaga-Mendez's background before he was hired in Marion in January 2006.

When hired in Marion, Veizaga-Mendez was under investigation in Massachusetts for allegedly botching seven cases in 2004 and 2005, including two that resulted in deaths.

Veizaga-Mendez's Illinois license was indefinitely suspended by regulators last October. The next month, he was permanently barred from practicing medicine in Massachusetts — a move that also required him to resign medical licenses he may have held in other states and withdraw pending license applications.

Veizaga-Mendez has no listed telephone number and has not responded to repeated messages left by The Associated Press at a Massachusetts home listed as an address for his wife.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed."

???? COlonel Dan is emailing this info out.

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