Kirk: Vets Shouldn’t Have to Share a Plate with Roaches

Washington, D.C.-(ENEWSPF)- U.S. Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), today introduced the Requiring Accountability and Inspections for Dining Service (RAID) Act, legislation that establishes new cleanliness inspection requirements at hospital kitchens and food service areas that mirrors those required of private sector hospitals, and prevents the agency from policing itself when conducting the inspections. Senator Kirk authored this legislation after it was reported that there was a cockroach infestation at the Edward Hines, Jr. VA facility in Illinois, and that roaches routinely crawl across kitchen countertops and have ended up in veterans’ food. The VA is allowed to conduct its own internal inspections without consequences which has resulted in substandard conditions that private hospitals would never be allowed to have.

Representative Mike Bost (R-Ill.-12) introduced companion legislation today in the House of Representatives.

“It’s deplorable that this infestation at the Hines VA has gone on for years and that our nation’s heroes are forced to share a plate with cockroaches,” said Senator Kirk. “The substandard treatment of our veterans has to stop. The RAID Act will keep VA kitchens clean and our veterans’ food away from roaches.”

The RAID Act takes away the VA’s power to self-police and self-inspect their kitchens and food service areas. It also requires a national accreditation organization to inspect these areas at all VA hospitals and facilities nationwide, and mandates that all VA kitchens and food service areas to meet the same cleanliness and inspection standards as private hospitals. Veterans at Hines “said they had never seen a health inspector, but once in a while, the VA will do a cursory bug spray in the area.” But when consulted about the infestation in this particular instance, an entomologist with Orkin pest control said “To have these exterminators come back on a weekly basis, something is not quite right,” he said. “It looks like they never got (the bugs) under control in the first place.”

Below is an excerpt from a Conservative News story about the whistleblower allegations that have so far gone unanswered.

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A Chicago-area Veterans Affairs hospital overrun by cockroaches in its kitchen and food has been advised to “keep doing what they’re doing” because the infestation isn’t very severe, employees say. This was the recommendation of two exterminators employed by a Wisconsin VA hospital who surveyed the kitchen at Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital in Hines, Ill. The pair met with upper management and union representatives Wednesday and said they didn’t see any cockroaches during their visit, according to social worker and union president Germaine Clarno and union steward Kelvin Gilney, who were present in the meeting. A Conservative Review investigation revealed allegations that cockroaches have infested the kitchen for years and the problem is so severe that the insects routinely find their way into patients’ meals.

A research scientist with Orkin said the only way to combat the problem is to close the kitchen, open the walls and all machinery, and vacuum the pests out. Sticky paper would be placed near the walls to determine where the bugs were coming from and then a reproduction sterilization bait would be used afterward. Right now, the bugs have become immune to the poisons used, said Orkin entomologist Ron Harrison. “I confronted them on pieces of the story, like how are they tracking the bugs?” Clarno said. “I asked if they could put sticky paper down and they said it was too expensive. The VA does everything bass-ackwards and goes above and beyond to do things wrong.”

The VA exterminators suggested that Hines upgrade the plumbing system — specifically the drains — and fix broken flooring. But beyond that, they will just continue to spray foam around various areas, Clarno said.

Hines spokesperson Jane Moen would not comment on the latest events other than to reiterate an earlier comment: “The nutrition and food services area at Hines VA Hospital has weekly inspections and, if needed, treatments from the exterminator.”

Clarno and Gilkey said they have been inundated with emails and phone calls from co-workers who praised the pair for coming forward to Conservative Review with anecdotes regarding the infestation.

“Everyone in the hospital is talking about it,” Gilkey said. “They said management should have been held accountable and it’s terrible they let it get this far.”

To that end, Valerie Adegunleye — the chief of Nutrition and Food Services at Hines — should be fired, said U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who sent a demand letter to the VA last week seeking answers.

“I told her about this almost two years ago,” Gilkey added. “She didn’t do anything.”

Adegunleye did not respond to two requests for comment.

… For Kirk, the issue is personal because this fiasco has happened at one of the largest VA hospitals in his state. He has authored a Whistleblower Protection Act, spurred on by retaliation of employees who have come forward to report wrongdoing in the VA over the past few years. The Act will be included in the larger Military Construction appropriations bill.

“They spend much more time and effort covering up for their incompetence rather than fixing the problem,” Kirk said. “They need to open up the walls and get rid of these bugs. We are going to be writing a letter to the Inspector General to make sure it’s fixed.”