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VA inspector general to begin probe of Legionnaires' outbreak

| Friday, Dec. 21, 2012, 10:02 p.m.

The Department of Veterans Affairs' Inspector General will look into the fatal outbreak of Legionnaires' disease at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, according to a lawmaker who called for the probe.

“I'm pleased that the Inspector General has opened an investigation into the Legionnaires' outbreak,” Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, said in a statement on Friday. “It's critical that the VA be held accountable and that reforms are instituted so this never happens again in Pittsburgh or any other VA facility.”

Legionella bacteria cause Legionnaires' disease, a form of pneumonia that can be fatal for people with weak immune systems.

Last week, Casey called on Inspector General George Opfer to start an independent investigation of the outbreak in Pittsburgh and review the risk to veterans in other facilities.

Casey and other local congressional leaders have complained that the VA lacked transparency and failed to respond to their questions about the outbreak.

Separate from the inspector general's probe, U.S. Reps. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, and Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, are collaborating on an effort to have the House Committee on Veterans Affairs convene a hearing on the matter.

“The congressmen felt that we needed answers to a number of questions about the outbreak and weren't getting them,” said Matt Dinkel, a spokesman for Doyle.

Tests determined that five people contracted Legionnaires' at the Pittsburgh VA. The outbreak has tentatively been linked to tainted tap water at the medical facility in Oakland.

One patient died, according to the Allegheny County Health Department.

The Oakland hospital had 29 Legionnaires' cases between January 2011 and November 2012.

“VA understands that the Office of Inspector General has agreed to investigate this issue and welcomes their review,” David Cowgill, a spokesman for the Pittsburgh VA, said in an email.

“The Pittsburgh Healthcare System will continue to work closely with the Centers for Disease Control, the Allegheny County Health Department and members of Congress to control Legionella and deliver the high quality care our veterans have earned and deserve.”

Tony LaRussa is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7987 or tlarussa@tribweb.com.

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