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VA, DOD MEDICAL READINESS SUBJECT OF MARCH 25 HEARING

 VA, DOD MEDICAL READINESS SUBJECT OF MARCH 25 HEARING
 Were the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs adequately


prepared to treat large numbers of casualties from the Persian Gulf War? Probably not, concludes General Accounting Office (GAO) findings which will be the subject of a March 25 Congressional hearing.
 The hearing, to be conducted by the House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, will begin at 9 a.m. in room 334 of the Cannon House Office Building, 1st Street and Independence Ave., S.E., Washington.
 "It's frightening to think of what could have been," said Subcommittee Chairman Lane Evans (D-Ill.). "We ask these individuals to go fight, to subject themselves to possible physical harm, yet our medical contingency planners are standing around with their hands in their pockets, evidently hoping the worst won't happen. Thank God the war was relatively brief with a limited number of casualties, otherwise, we very likely would have had a medical disaster on our hands."
 The VA has a 10-year-old Congressional mandate to back up military hospitals in the event of war or national emergency. Stateside military hospitals account for approximately 15,000 beds. During the Persian Gulf War, VA claimed it could free another 25,000 beds for casualties within a one-month period. Civilian hospitals participating in the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) report they could provide a minimum of 58,000 beds within 24 hours. However, GAO found the bed availability numbers "may be overstated" due to staffing shortages at the federal level and, in the private sector, many of the beds reported as available under NDMS were found "not appropriate for the care of combat casualties." GAO also found inadequate planning for the reception, transportation and tracking of casualties.
 The GAO also expressed dissatisfaction with the planned displacement of patients in VA and military hospitals in order to make room for casualties.
 "By not coordinating this care in advance and forcing veterans and military dependents to compete for health care in the community, a strong possibility exists that community beds planned for the care of servicemembers would not be available, and that veterans, military dependents, and retirees would not be able to receive the medical care they need within their own communities," GAO states in the executive summary of its study.
 For its study, GAO interviewed medical planners in the Pentagon and hospital officials in six major metropolitan areas which were slated to receive casualties: Washington; St. Louis; Orlando, Fla.; Richmond, Va.; San Antonio and Pittsburgh.
 GAO will present specific recommendations to the subcommittee for ensuring medical readiness. VA, DoD, and NDMS witnesses are also scheduled to present testimony at the hearing.
 CONTACT: Jim Holley of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, 202-225-3527.
 -0- 3/24/92


CO: House Veterans Affairs Committee ST: District of Columbia IN: HEA SU:

DC-MK -- DC022 -- 1197 03/24/92 15:18 EST
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Date:Mar 24, 1992
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