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Congressman Chris Collins

Representing the 27th District of New York

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20 veterans test positive for hepatitis

May 9, 2013
In The News

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) - Four months after learning veterans may have been exposed to HIV and hepatitis at the V.A. Hospital in Buffalo, 20 have tested positive for hepatitis.

In January, the V.A. Hospital announced that despite federal guidelines, staff had been reusing insulin pens, and some 700 patients could have potentially been exposed to blood-borne illnesses.

So far, 394 veterans have been tested. Of those, 14 tested positive for hepatitis B, and six tested positive for hepatitis C. Twenty-seven are still awaiting test results. The V.A. says four of the 20 with hepatitis have cleared the virus and two have evidence of chronic disease. None of the veterans tested positive for HIV.

V.A. Hospital Inspector General Brian Stiller said, "Nobody gets up in the morning to come here and put veterans at risk. And so, to our veterans, we absolutely are sorry."

Of the 716 veterans who may have been exposed, 174 have already passed away. The V.A. says 26 have refused testing and officials are still trying to contact 94 others to get tested.

Dr. Alan Lesse said, "Treatment for hepatitis C generally involves 24 to 48 weeks of therapy. Currently, the therapy requires both injectable and oral medications."

Congressman Chris Collins said the results are "a sign that our V.A. needs to step up their game. Right now the accountability or lack thereof in best practices which have not been instituted there, it's unacceptable to all of us."

Collins says the V.A. has been asked to implement new policies designed to measure the benefits and risks of medical procedures or devices by June 30, but the hospital has indicated it may not be able to get new policies in place by that date.

"When do these people want to hold themselves accountable to delivering what our veterans deserve?" Collins questioned. "No heads have rolled. These practices almost seem to be them shrugging their shoulders saying, 'We're sorry it happened.' But where's the accountability?"

"I believe the Secretary [of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki] should be relived of his job. I believe the undersecretary should be relieved. You have to clean house at some point in time, to bring someone in who says, 'Veterans come first.'"

Shortly after the V.A. announced the risk of exposure, Olean General Hospital followed suit, acknowledging staff had reused insulin pens. Of the patients tested so far, 13 have tested positive for hepatitis.

Despite the positive test results, health officials say there is no way of knowing if the patients contracted hepatitis from the reuse of the insulin or from another source.

"I'm sure the families and the patients involved are going to certainly allege that this was a direct result of the reuse of those pens. So the taxpayers are at risk here," Collins said. "I wouldn't doubt for a minute there [will] be lawsuits."

After the hospitals disclosures, both discontinued the practice of reusing insulin pens.