Thursday, June 25, 2009
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Veterans groups and lawmakers say VA hospitals have permitted these violations because federal regulations allow doctors to work with little outside scrutiny. They say the VA health system, with its under-funded hospitals and overworked doctors, is showing signs of an "institutional breakdown," in the words of one congressman.
An official with the American Legion who visits and inspects VA health centers said complacency, poor funding and little oversight led to the violations that failed the cancer patients in Philadelphia and possibly infected 53 veterans with hepatitis and HIV from unsterilized equipment at three VA health centers in Florida, Tennessee and Georgia.
"Lack of inspections, lack of transparency" were likely to blame, said Joe Wilson, deputy director of the Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission for the American Legion, who testified before Congress this month on transparency problems in a budgeting arm of the VA.
Wilson said the American Legion is investigating the case of the VA Medical Center in Philadelphia, where doctors gave 92 veterans incorrect radiation doses for treatment of prostate cancer during a six-year span when no peer review or proper oversight measures were in place, the New York Times reported.
Those doctors, whose continuous errors were finally detected last year, were immediately fired from their work at the VA center, but not before putting the lives of the 92 veterans at risk. That news came on the heels of months of investigations into medical lapses that permitted endoscopic procedures like colonoscopies to be performed improperly for years.
Wilson told FOXNews.com that poor funding has aggravated problems, and that money is often misspent on repairs for old facilities and equipment to help manage a construction backlog that has put the VA years behind. He said the aging facilities are incapable of handling or properly operating new technology and equipment.
"The average age of VA facilities is about 49 years," he said. "That's too old. In the private sector the average age of facilities is about 12 years."
The VA Medical Center in Philadelphia is 57 years old. Doctors there were performing a procedure called brachytherapy, in which radioactive seeds the size of rice grains are implanted into organs to kill cancer cells.
But doctors there were sometimes implanting the seeds into the wrong organs, and in many cases gave significantly less radiation than was prescribed -- including during an entire year when their monitoring equipment was broken and they were essentially flying blind, the New York Times reported.
And when one physician, Dr. Gary Kao, was found to have botched a brachytherapy in 2003, he simply changed his surgery plan to make the error appear to be intentional, the Times reported.
Despite the violations that cost Kao his job, some veterans' groups said the general care provided by VA is among the best in the world, and they applauded the department for taking steps to address its problems.
"Our feeling is that the quality of the care is excellent," said Jay Agg, a national spokesman for AMVETS, the American Veterans organization. "However, the fact that it occurred in the first place really points to a lack of oversight, and corrective measures need to be taken."
Both AMVETS and the American Legion welcomed advanced funding that was granted to VA this week, reversing a trend of late funding that has kept the department on tenterhooks for nearly 20 years.
But investigations conducted by the VA last month show that systemic problems remain. Under half of VA centers given surprise inspections had proper training and guidelines in place for common endoscopic procedures.
VA Secretary Gen. Eric Shinseki and senior leadership "are conducting a top to bottom review of the Department," a VA representative told FOXNews.com. "They are implementing aggressive actions to make sure the right policies and procedures are in place to protect our veterans and provide them with the quality health care they have earned."
The representative said that all brachytherapy treatments have been ended at the Philadelphia hospital, and the VA has hired a national director of radiation oncology and developed standard procedures for calculating the accuracy of seed placement.
But veterans advocates say that won't be enough, and they say they haven't seen any evidence of changes that could fix what they call a broken healthcare system.
"How many patients can you see in a day and still give proper care?" asked Jim Strickland, a veterans' advocate and former health care technician who contributes to VAWatchdog.org. "There aren't enough physicians to handle the crisis that the VA faces."
Richard Dodd, a litigator who has represented veterans in lawsuits against the government, said that poor funding has lowered the quality of care and interest from some physicians.
"They're generally under-funded ... and I think the interest of the doctors suffers to some degree," he told FOXNews.com. "Generally speaking, the physicians that work at the VA work there because they have no interest in private health care, and in some situations are unable to find jobs in private industry."
Strickland said care and oversight would not improve until funding is increased and the leadership makes sweeping changes.
In the meantime, he said, "we are doing such a disservice to our veterans."
Lawmakers, who are bristling at that "disservice," led congressional inquiries into the endoscopy debacle during hearings last week.
"[T]here is no question that shoddy standards -- systemic across the VA -- put veterans at risk and dealt a blow to their trust in the VA," said Rep. Harry Mitchell, the Arizona Democrat who chairs the House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.
Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., is now gearing up for action over the Philadelphia facility. He wrote to Shinseki Tuesday asking "what allowed such chronic failures to occur" and demanding to know what steps the VA has taken "to ensure that such problems do not occur at other VA hospitals."
Specter called for a field hearing of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on Monday, June 29, calling the alleged abuses at VA hospitals "very serious" and promising that they would get a "full and prompt review." A lawyer for Gary Kao said the doctor would appear at the Philadelphia hearing and answer any questions from Specter "fully and completely."
Monday, June 22, 2009
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Iran's Mousavi says ready for "martyrdom": ally
TEHRAN (Reuters) – Opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi said he was "ready for martyrdom," according to an ally, in leading protests that have shaken the Islamic Republic and brought warnings of bloodshed from Iran's Supreme Leader.
Mousavi also called on Saturday for a national strike if he is arrested, a witness said. As darkness fell, rooftop cries of Allahu Akbar (God is greatest) sounded out across northern Tehran for nearly an hour, an echo of tactics used in the 1979 Islamic revolution against the Shah.
EDITORS' NOTE: Reuters and other foreign media are subject to Iranian restrictions on their ability to report, film or take pictures in Tehran.
In an act fraught with symbolic significance, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the mausoleum of the father of Iran's Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, while unrest continued across Tehran in defiance of a ban on demonstrations.
Riot police deployed in force, firing teargas, using batons and water cannon to disperse protesters.
Witnesses said 2,000 to 3,000 were on the streets, fewer than the hundreds of thousands earlier in the week, but a clear challenge to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who used a speech on Friday to endorse disputed election results that gave hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a landslide victory.
Defeated candidate Mousavi, a product of the Islamic establishment himself and a former prime minister, made clear he would not back down.
"In a public address in southwestern Tehran, Mousavi said he was ready for martyrdom and that he would continue his path," a Mousavi ally, who asked not to be named, told Reuters by telephone from the Jeyhun street in Tehran.
A witness to the address said Mousavi, center of protests unprecedented in the 30-year history of the Islamic Republic, appeared to anticipate action against him.
"Mousavi called on people to go on national strike if he gets arrested," the witness told Reuters.
Mousavi demanded the elections be annulled.
"These disgusting measures (election rigging) were planned months ahead of the vote ... considering all the violations ... the election should be annulled," Mousavi said in a letter to the country's top legislative body.
The scale of the demonstrations in Iran, a major oil exporter embroiled in dispute with major powers over its nuclear program, has taken Iranians and foreign governments by surprise. Hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets in largely peaceful protests, though state media said seven or eight protesters were shot dead earlier in the week.
The attack on the mausoleum of Islamic revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini was likely to inflame passions among Iranians who revere the man who led a movement that overthrew the Western-backed Shah in 1979. It was not clear who carried out the bombing, confirmed by police; but such an incident could be cited by authorities in justifying a crackdown.
The bomber was killed and three others were wounded, according to the English-language Press TV.
Supporters of Mousavi set on fire a building in southern Tehran used by backers of President Ahmadinejad, a witness said.
The witness also said police shot into the air to disperse rival supporters in Tehran's south Karegar street.
Iran's highest legislative body said it was ready to recount a random 10 percent of the votes cast in the June 12 poll to meet the complaints of Mousavi and two other candidates who lost to Ahmadinejad.
WAFTS OF TEARGAS
Teargas billowed up from Enghelab (Revolution) Square as riot police confronted demonstrators, a witness said.
The Etemad-e Melli party of losing candidate Mehdi Karoubi said plans for a rally had been scrapped for lack of a permit and an ally of Mousavi said the moderate politician had not summoned his followers back to the streets.
Press TV showed footage of a burning bus, without saying where the incident occurred. It also said protesters set fire to a mosque and a number of cars and buses following clashes with police. After dark, calls of Allahu Akbar alternated with chants of "We support you, Mirhossein," ringing out over rooftops.
The 12-man Guardian Council, which must certify the result of the election, announced plans for a partial recount.
"Although the Guardian Council is not legally obliged ... we are ready to recount 10 percent of the (ballot) boxes randomly in the presence of representatives of the three (defeated) candidates," a council spokesman said.
The council had invited Mousavi, Karoubi and a third candidate, Mohsen Rezaie, to raise their complaints at a special session. But only Rezaie, a conservative who is a former Revolutionary Guard commander, attended.
Witnesses said they had seen Basij Islamic militia deploying across Tehran and one resident saw at least three buses full of Basij heading for the capital from the nearby city of Karaj on Saturday, as well as four trucks full of the motorcycles used by Basij militiamen during previous demonstrations.
"If there is any bloodshed, leaders of the protests will be held directly responsible," the white-bearded Khamenei told huge crowds thronging Tehran University for Friday prayers.
Scores of reformists have been arrested and authorities have cracked down on foreign and domestic media.
In a sign of defiance, Mousavi backers took to Tehran rooftops after nightfall on Friday to shout Allahu Akbar (God is greatest), a deliberate echo of tactics in the 1979 revolution.
Friday, June 19, 2009
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
2 hours ago
YEKATERINBURG, Russia (AP) — Russian President Dmitry Medvedev says the world needs new reserve currencies.
Medvedev told a regional summit Tuesday that the creation of new reserve currencies in addition to the dollar is needed to stabilize global finances.
Medvedev has made the proposal before. It reflects both the Kremlin's push for greater international clout and a concern shared by other countries that soaring U.S. budget deficits could spur inflation and weaken the dollar.
Airing it at a summit meeting underlined the challenge to U.S. clout.
Medvedev spoke at a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which includes China and four Central Asian nations.
Later Tuesday he hosts a summit of the BRIC group of leading emerging economies — Brazil, Russia, India and China.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
YEKATERINBURG, Russia (AP) — Russia played regional power broker Monday, hosting China and Central Asian nations for a summit that highlights the Kremlin's efforts to maintain clout in former Soviet territory and raise its profile in Afghanistan.
Moscow is expected to use the meeting of leaders from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to try to cement the six-nation group as a counterbalance to the U.S. presence in strategic Central Asia.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev opened the two-day meeting by saying the group would discuss the global financial crisis as well as the key issue the organization was created to address: regional security.
"Our organization has been created quite recently, but it has scored quite serious progress," he said.
Late Monday, Medvedev had what he called a "most productive and useful" meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and he promised that Russia will help Afghanistan create "an efficient political system."
"We are very thankful for the assistance that Russia has given Afghanistan," Karzai responded, "particularly over the last seven years, during this difficult period of history when we have been fighting terrorism."
At a meeting later with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, Medvedev said all nations needed to work together to fight terrorism — a call he repeated after he, Zardari and Karzai held a final meeting together.
"Many issues including the most difficult challenges our nations are facing today, such as terrorism and crime, can only be fought with collective efforts," Medvedev said. "If we can create efficient workable trilateral mechanism, that will benefit our nations."
The 8-year-old Shanghai Cooperation Organization is dominated by Russia and China and includes Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, with countries such as India, Iran and Pakistan holding observer status.
Medvedev also was expected to meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranian leader postponed his arrival in this Ural Mountains city until Tuesday, according to the Iranian Embassy in Moscow, during protests in Iran over his bitterly disputed re-election.
Amid efforts by Washington and Moscow to improve strained ties, the summit will be watched for signs of stronger support from Russia and its neighbors for American-led operations in Afghanistan. That will be a signal of the depth of Russia's determination to mend fences with the United States at a time of warming relations between the two countries.
While Moscow and its neighbors have stressed solidarity with the West on the need for stability in Afghanistan, Kremlin critics say they have used their combined clout in the past to confound U.S. efforts.
In 2005, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization supported Uzbekistan's eviction of U.S. forces from a base supporting operations in Afghanistan. In February, Kyrgyzstan announced it would evict U.S. forces from their only other Central Asian base — a decision widely seen as influenced by Russia. U.S. officials have said there is still hope for a deal to keep use of the Manas base.
Karzai has appealed to Kyrgyzstan to let coalition forces continue using Manas, and the Afghan leader could meet his Kyrgyz counterpart for talks during the summit.
Kremlin foreign affairs adviser Sergei Prikhodko said Sunday that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization has seen "more transparency" from the administration of President Barack Obama on U.S. policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan. "The niches of interaction with Western countries, including the U.S., may be widened," he said.
Russia and the Central Asian countries already have allowed the transport of non-lethal military supplies across their territory.
Prikhodko did not say what the nations might do to increase cooperation, but made it clear they want a greater say in resolving the situation in Afghanistan.
Prikhodko also said the leaders will discuss broader security issues and the global financial crisis, as well as the situation on the Korean peninsula, but that no major statement on North Korea's nuclear activity was expected.
The summit will be followed late Tuesday by the first full-fledged summit of BRIC, a group linking the emerging economies Brazil, Russia, India and China.
Medvedev may repeat Russia's call for a new global reserve currency to augment the dollar, but Russia's finance minister over the weekend suggested that the dollar would remain the currency of choice for years to come.