Obama 'will not tolerate' VA mishandling veterans' care, urges patience
President Obama promised on Wednesday to punish Department of Veterans Affairs workers who may have covered up deadly scheduling delays for veterans, but asked for patience from those demanding swift action.
Obama dispatched Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors to the VA medical facility in Phoenix, where VA investigators are checking into allegations that at least 40 veterans died while on a secret waiting list. The scandal could grow as the Office of Inspector General checks into 25 other facilities.
The Tribune-Review could not confirm with the VA or the Inspector General if any VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System hospitals — under fire for more than a year over a deadly Legionnaires' outbreak — are involved.
“If these allegations prove to be true, it is dishonorable, it is disgraceful, and I will not tolerate it,” Obama said at a news conference.
He noted some VA executives are on administrative leave while the investigation is underway.
“I know that people are angry and want a swift reckoning. I sympathize with that. But we have to let investigators do their job and get to the bottom of what happened,” Obama said.
The promise failed to placate critics, who say the administration hasn't done enough to hold accountable those whose mistakes harm veterans' health care.
“Immediate action is required, but the president is urging patience,” said Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. Miller said the VA “is in the middle of the biggest health care scandal in its history.”
Congress moved to keep up the pressure on the administration, with the House easily approving a measure Wednesday evening that would give the VA secretary more authority to fire or demote the 450 senior career employees who serve as hospital directors or executives in the agency's 21 regions. The vote was 390 to 33.
Sharon Helman, the director of the Phoenix VA, is among those placed on leave at the request of Inspector General investigators. The VA told Congress on Wednesday that it rescinded the $9,345 bonus Helman received on top of her nearly $170,000 salary.
“If somebody's mismanaged or engaged in misconduct, not only do I not want them getting bonuses, I want them punished,” Obama said.
But the White House remained mum to a Trib inquiry about a much larger bonus it approved in 2012 for Michael Moreland, then the VA's Pittsburgh-based regional director, during a Legionnaires' disease outbreak in which at least six veterans died and at least 16 more fell ill.
VA leaders defended Moreland's $63,000 bonus and allowed him to retire without trying to get the money back, even after the Inspector General found mistakes and mismanagement contributed to the outbreak.
“As I understand it, we cannot retract or take back these bonuses,” Dr. Robert Petzel, then the VA undersecretary for health, told Congress on Sept. 9. Petzel retired last week, though the VA tried to pass his departure off as a resignation.
The VA has not disclosed any disciplinary action related to the Pittsburgh VA outbreak.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the outbreak lasted from February 2011 to November 2012, but a Trib investigation found alarmingly high levels of Legionella — the bacteria that cause the pneumonia — in the VA's water system as far back as 2007. The Trib found discrepancies between what some officials told Congress and the public, and what others said.
More than 80 percent of Americans believe the country isn't doing enough to support veterans health care, according to a Robert Morris University poll. The poll by RMU's Polling Institute registered the opinions of 1,004 people from May 6-13, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Mike Wereschagin is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7900 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers defensive end Tuitt shifts into high gear
- McKeesport man accused of firing at child to stand trial
- East Allegheny may meet this week with education association
- Rain postpones Pirates-Cubs game
- Rossi: Pirates foolish to bet on Burnett return
- Erie attorney named trustee for bankrupt Homestead Cemetery
- Ankle replacement makes UPMC McKeesport history
- Charges held against suspect in McKeesport market robbery, assault
- Steelers notebook: No decision on surgery for rookie CB Golson
- Steelers’ Mitchell taking cautious approach about dealing with injuries
- Oil prices slip on persistent fears of glut