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Blumenthal Questions VA Regarding West Haven VA Explosion and Vaccine Distribution

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) today during a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing questioned Dr. Richard Stone, Executive in Charge, Veterans Health Administration (VHA), regarding the investigation into the explosion last month at the West Haven VA and vaccine distribution plans.

Blumenthal questioned Stone regarding deployment of a COVID-19 to VA facilities in Connecticut, and to urge that the West Haven be including the sites to receive an initial shipment of the Pfizer vaccine.

Blumenthal: One last question for you, among the sites that have been indicated for either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, is there a public list?

Stone: Yes, we'll make sure your staff has it.

Blumenthal: Can you tell me whether Connecticut is one of those sites?

Stone: I don't believe it's on the initial list, but in your catchment area, there are two sites that will get the Pfizer vaccine. I do not believe the initial five sites are in the state of Connecticut.

Blumenthal: Where is the nearest?

Stone: Massachusetts.

Blumenthal: Which part?

Stone: I think in Boston.

Blumenthal: That is the nearest to Connecticut for any vaccine?

Stone: I think that will be the initial delivery. We have executed 83 contracts for dry ice to help us distribute this around the system. I just don't know until this weekend when we get final distribution criteria from CDC and FDA.

Blumenthal: I'm going to ask that Connecticut be included as one of the sites for the dry ice and my staff will be in touch with you.

Regarding the investigation into the explosion at the West Haven VA, Blumenthal urged the VA to conduct their own investigation into the accident.

Blumenthal: Before I go to my questions about the vaccine I want to first, again, express my condolences to the two individuals who perished at the VA facility in West Haven. I hope you are familiar with that tragedy. Euel Sims, a longtime employee of the VA and a veteran, and Joseph O’Donnell both died as a result of an explosion at the VA facility on November 13th. And I have been to the facility. I've talked to Al Montoya, the director. He has told me there is an investigation. I extend my condolences again to their families and loved ones. I'd like to know how soon we can expect a completion of that investigation.

Stone: Senator, I appreciate the fact that you went out there the day of the explosion, or within 24 hours. And the senator -- or the secretary and I were there within the next 24 hours. And we walked the facility. We walked the area. And this is a tragedy that is just unacceptable. That investigation is not in our hands. It is in OSHA’s hands as well as NIOSHA as well as state inspectors.

Blumenthal: The VA is not conducting its own internal investigation?

Stone: That's being done as part of our safety investigation, yes, and I anticipate the results of that to coincide with the release of the other federal and state investigations. As you know this was a steam line that exploded. And we are going through all of the pieces that led to that. And we will release that in as transparent a manner as is possible.