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Wednesday, August 7, 2013 - 3:38am

Hearing Focuses On Atlanta VA Changes

U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson will lead a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee field hearing Wednesday about problems at the Atlanta VA Medical Center.

An inspector general’s report in April linked mismanagement in mental health programs at the center to the suicides of three patients and outlined a series of problems.

Isakson wants the public to hear how the Department of Veterans Affairs is correcting those issues.

“Have you accomplished the things set out in the IG’s report? That’s critical,” Isakson said Tuesday.

Those recommendations include improving security so contraband doesn’t get into hospitals and more closely following mental health patients once they are referred to outside professionals for further treatment.

“Mental health patients go into the VA, they are assessed, and they are referred to a contractor, which is generally a private healthcare provider, [and] they have an appointment maybe in five days, maybe in a week,” Isakson said. “They fall between the cracks. There was no following of that patient, no contact with them.”

Isakson said he also wants to make the point that more must be done to prevent suicides among veterans and active-duty military personnel.

“There are 22 suicides a day, 8,000 a year,” he said. “The total number of soldiers lost in Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan is just over 6,000, and that’s in 10 years.”

“That is a dangerous trend we’ve got to stop,” Isakson said.

The senator said the center’s new director, Leslie Wiggins, has briefed him on the changes she has made since she took over in May and he has been impressed with her. But he said the public needs to hear about the changes, too.

“This issue deserves a public regurgitation, if you will, of all the things the VA has done, because we don’t want people thinking what went on there is still going on there.”