Richmond Times-Dispatch: Cancer screening results delayed in mail prompts latest call for answers

RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH, MICHAEL MARTZ

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., is demanding answers from the U.S. Postal Service over late delivery of hundreds of cancer screening results from military veterans to the Richmond Veterans Affairs Medical Center, which is part of the Central Virginia VA Health Care System.

Kaine called on the Postal Service to explain why the results of 870 immunochemical screenings for colon cancer arrived late to the VA Medical Center, including an estimated 450 results for tests dating as far back as mid-summer that are no longer usable. The patients send the results of at-home screening to the VA to indicate whether they need to test further for potential signs of colon cancer.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., told postal officials in the letter: “This is unacceptable.”

“We want to be clear; this is unacceptable,” the senator wrote in a letter co-signed by Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and members of Virginia’s congressional delegation and released Tuesday. “These issues with postal delays have caused unnecessary stress and harm for our constituents and suggest to us that the issues in the region are worse than we thought. We are unsatisfied with the level of urgency and responsiveness the agency has demonstrated with the issues we have raised previously, and this must change with this new revelation.

Postal Service spokesman Philip Bogenberger said Tuesday, “We are investigating this matter. We apologize to customers who are impacted by this situation.”

Bogenberger said that when the Postal Service receives a formal inquiry from elected officials, “it’s postal protocol to respond directly to the officials.”

Among the congressional representatives signing the letter are Rep. Jennifer McClellan, D-4th, who represents Richmond and much of the region; Rep. Rob Wittman, R-1st, who represents parts of Henrico, Chesterfield and Hanover counties in a district that extends from the Northern Neck through much of tidal Virginia; and Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, a Henrico resident who now represents a Northern Virginia district extending from Caroline County through the Fredericksburg area to eastern Prince William County.

Also signing the letter are Reps. Bob Good, R-5th, whose district includes western Hanover, Louisa and Goochland counties, and Jen Kiggans, R-2nd, whose district is based in Virginia Beach, Chesapeake and Suffolk.

Kaine raised the issue at the monthly meeting of the Virginia congressional delegation on Tuesday. “People were shocked and we’re not letting it go,” he said.

Battles over lagging postal deliveries have intensified in the Richmond area in recent months, as Kaine and other members of the state’s congressional delegation have expressed frustration over the Postal Service’s unwillingness to meet publicly with their constituents over unreliable service. Virginia lawmakers previously have raised concerns about problems with mail delivery in the Charlottesville area.

“Among other impacts, these delays have caused people to miss needed medications or to receive billing notices after payment deadlines have passed,” Kaine and the congressional representatives said in the letter. “We have shared these with the agency formally and via staff in an effort to identify if these are isolated cases or signs of a systemic challenge with postal delivery in this area.”

The delayed deliveries of home-screening test results for colon cancer represents “even more alarming consequences” of faulty mail delivery, they said.

The Veterans Administration Center in South Richmond, formerly named for Hunter Holmes McGuire, a Confederate surgeon, said it recently received postal delivery of about 870 immunochemical test samples, which veterans collected in their homes and returned by mail to detect early signs of colon cancer.

For the test results to be valid, the VA Center must receive them within about two weeks of collection.

“It is our understanding that upon delivery of this recent batch of tests, more than half of the samples were older than two weeks — some dating back to mid-2023 — and therefore were unusable by the VA,” Kaine and the congressional representatives said.

In a press briefing Tuesday, the senator said the mailed samples appeared to have been put aside, stacked up and delivered in batches.

“It’s almost like they planned to do it that way,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like an accident.

“That’s so negligent to almost be beyond negligence.”

In the letter, the senators and representatives said the VA Center has been working with the Postal Service “to understand how this could have happened” but has indicated that “precise answers have not yet been forthcoming from USPS.”

Kaine said the fault appears to lie solely with the Postal Service, not the medical center.

Kaine and the other officials requested a timely briefing by the Postal Service “to understand how this could have happened and what is being done to keep it from happening again.” They also asked to tour the USPS facility that processed the mailed samples “to see firsthand the operational challenges.”

“It is imperative that we understand the systemic issues that are causing these operational challenges on the ground at Virginia postal facilities, so that we may provide the resources and support these facilities require from the federal level in order to prevent further service delays and disruptions,” they said.

“Postal service customers in Central Virginia deserve transparency and explanation, as soon as possible, regarding these issues.”

However, Kaine and the others noted that the Postal Service had declined previous requests for meetings and tours to discuss mounting concerns over faulty mail deliveries in the Richmond area. He said it has refused requests for town meetings and facility tours. He warned that Congress has “other tools at our disposal” to force the Postal Service to address the concerns that he may use soon.

“You’re not going to solve the issue by putting your head in the sand,” he said.

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