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A congressional panel is set to question officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs about medical mistakes at VA hospitals that caused at least five patients to become infected with HIV, and 43 others to contract hepatitis.

Last April, over 10,000 patients at VA hospitals began getting tested for HIV, after it came to light that doctors had used endoscopic (colonoscopy) equipment on them that hadn’t been sterilized properly, and had exposed them to the body fluids of other patients.

On June 16, the oversight and investigations subcommittee of the US House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs will explore the causes of these mistakes and examine the VA’s solutions thus far.

The subcommittee chairman, U.S. Rep. Harry Mitchell D-Arizona, said Thursday in a phone interview that veterans who are testing positive for HIV and hepatitis, "whether it came from these improper procedures or not, the VA has a responsibility to take care of these patients."

A top VA doctor has said no one will ever know if the positive tests were caused by exposure to improperly operated or cleaned endoscopic equipment used in colonoscopies at Murfreesboro and Miami and to treat patients at the VA’s ear, nose and throat clinic in Augusta. The VA has not denied the mistakes. –AP

Veterans who had VA colonoscopies but have since tested negative for infections are nevertheless hesitant to return to the hospitals. It’s hard to blame them, particularly when the hospitals have thus far failed to offer concrete explanations of how these kinds of mistakes were made.

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