Starting June 28th, the Department of Veterans Affairs began mailing letters to 1,812 military veterans who had dental work done at the St. Louis VA between February 1, 2009 and March 11, 2010.
Dr. Gina Michael says a quality management team from Washington D.C. was at the St. Louis VA hospital to review its procedures this March and discovered that dental staff were improperly pre-washing some dental equipment. The staff was hand-washing delicate hand-held instruments (like picks and mirrors) in a sink and then sending the items through a steam sanitizer. Dr. Michael says the staff should have pre-washed the items in another machine before sending them through the steam sanitizer.
The VA says all the tools were sanitized and believes the risk of infection is low, but is asking military veterans who received treatment at the dental clinic at the John Cochran facility on North Grand Blvd between last February and this March to be tested for Hepatitis A, Hepatitis C, and HIV.
Some veterans started receiving letters at soon as today. Veterans are asked to call 1-888-374-3046 for more information and to set up a time for blood testing. The VA says the call center is now open 24 hours a day and seven days a week.
The VA has set up a special dental review testing center in the basement of the John Cochran facility. There, veterans can be tested, visit with a counselor, or ask for information on how to submit a claim for damages.
Veterans who are eligible for dental care are typically 100% service connected: www1.va.gov/opa/publications/benefits_book/benefits_chap02.asp
Congressman Russ Carnahan is calling for an investigation: carnahan.house.gov/index.php
The VA says dental staff has been retrained on the proper cleaning process. The VA would not provide any information on whether any employees were disciplined.