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Health Highlights: May 8, 2015

Liberia Declared Free of Ebola Investigate All VA Regional Offices for Problems: Senators

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Liberia Declared Free of Ebola

The West African country of Liberia is officially free of Ebola, World Health Organization officials announced Saturday.

There have been no new cases reported in 42 days, which is the equivalent of two incubation periods for the devastating disease, health officials said.

Still, the damage wrought by the worst Ebola outbreak in history leaves ""a scar on the conscience of the world," Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf told the Associated Press on Saturday.

WHO officials also noted they are not letting their guard down, since 18 new cases were reported this week in the two other countries hit hardest by the deadly virus -- neighboring Sierra Leone and Guinea.

Still, that was the lowest number of cases reported in a week so far this year, according to the WHO.

At least 11,005 people have died since the Ebola outbreak in West Africa began more than a year ago, the WHO said.


Investigate All VA Regional Offices for Problems: Senators

A group of U.S. senators wants the Government Accountability Office to investigate all 56 regional offices of the Department of Veterans Affairs for problems that cause delays in processing veterans' disability and pension claims.

Legislation requiring the investigation was to be included in a report to be released Wednesday by the bipartisan group of nine senators, the Associated Press reported.

They said recent findings of mismanagement at the Philadelphia VA -- such as alterations of quality reviews, manipulation of dates to make old claims appear new, and neglected mail -- suggest there may be department-wide issues.

"The VA system again finds itself engulfed in another scandal," said Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., co-chair of the Senate's VA backlog working group, the AP reported.

He said poor management in VA offices across the country shows "it is time for an overhaul of the entire system."

The other co-chair of the working group, Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., is also worried that the Philadelphia VA office is not the only one with problems. "It's simply unacceptable to have a veteran with a disability wait hundreds of days for their claim to be resolved," he said, the AP reported.

The VA claims there are 161,000 disability and compensation claims on backlog (defined as pending over 125 days), compared to a peak of 611,000 in March 2013. However, the accuracy of the data has been challenged by the VA inspector general.

The Senate report says the inspector general should determine whether claims processors should be held to deadlines, and calls on the VA to improve manager training, submit an updated assessment of staffing and budget needs within six months, and keep Congress informed about its switch to an electronic claims system, the AP reported.

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