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U.S. House passes McKinley bill regarding cameras in VA hospitals

MORGANTOWN – Following on the heels of the sentencing of Reta Mays for the murder of eight veterans at the Clarksburg VA hospital, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill introduced by Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., to require the VA to report to Congress on the use and maintenance of all cameras used for patient safety and law enforcement purposes in VA medical facilities.

The bill is HR 1510, the Veterans Camera Reporting Act. A summary of the bill says the VA would be required to make recommendations on how to improve and monitor camera use throughout the VA health care system. “This would provide an important record of existing policies and practices with respect to camera usage and pave the way for needed improvements to keep veterans, visitors, and VA employees safe,” it reads.

The bill has bipartisan sponsorship, including West Virginia GOP Reps. Alex Mooney and Carol Miller.

McKinley commented, “If we’ve learned anything from what happened at Clarksburg, it’s that we need more transparency and oversight in our VA system. Greater use of cameras is one step towards that. It will provide an additional safety measure for veterans, staff and visitors. We owe it to our veterans to restore their confidence in the VA and ensure they receive the quality care they deserve.”

On Monday, McKinley joined Sens. Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito to tour the Clarksburg hospital with VA Secretary Denis McDonough and discuss problems there and at other VA hospitals.

During the press briefing after the tour, Capito also mentioned the need for better camera security. She introduced the Senate version of the same bill on the same date, March 2. The Senate version is S 539 and is sitting in the Veterans Affairs Committee. It also has bipartisan sponsorship, including Manchin.

Capito commented on the passage of the House bill: “Since the troubling news broke regarding the Clarksburg VA tragedies, I have remained in close contact with those involved in this investigation to ensure that we get answers and make sure situations like this do not occur in the future. During my many conversations with VA leadership and others, it became clear that a complicating factor in the Clarksburg VA investigation was the lack of security footage.

“Our legislation would help fix this issue and improve transparency,” she said. “Specifically, our bill would provide the Senate with insight on the utilization of security cameras at VA medical centers across the country so we can better determine how to tackle this issue and ensure patient safety. Steps like this piece of legislation will put new measures in place that will help us avoid these kinds of tragedies in the future. I applaud the House for passing its version and will continue working to advance this commonsense legislation here in the Senate.”

Manchin commented, “I am pleased the House has passed the companion bill to my bipartisan legislation on requiring a report on video cameras at our VA facilities. I urge my colleagues on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to consider this bipartisan bill so we can ensure no other Veteran or their loved ones experience what occurred at the Clarksburg VAMC ever again.”

Manchin staff said the Senate could proceed in a couple ways to get the bill through Congress, including taking up the House bill or passing its own and uniting the two bills down the road.

Miller noted that safety issues are not exclusive to the Clarksburg hospital. In January, a former doctor at the VA hospital in Beckley was sentenced to 25 years in prison following accusations of sexually abusing patients there.

And the summary sheet on the bill mentioned the suicide of a veteran locked in a mental health unit at a VA hospital in West Palm Beach, Fla. “The cameras on the unit that may have allowed staff to see him preparing to take his life and intervene were not operational at the time of his death.”

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