Rothfus and two key House leaders pressure VA for Pittsburgh Legionnaires' records and emails
By Adam Smeltz
Published: Wednesday, April 3, 2013, 3:48 p.m.
U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Sewickley, joined two key House members on Wednesday to pressure the Department of Veterans Affairs for critical documents sought in connection with a fatal outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in Pittsburgh.
In a letter to President Obama and VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, Rothfus and Reps. Jeff Miller and Mike Coffman aired “grave concerns” over the VA's “lack of responsiveness.” Miller, R-Fla., is chairman of the full House Committee on Veterans' Affairs; Coffman, R-Colo., is chairman of its Oversight and Investigations subcommittee.
“The delays frustrate the ability of Congress to effectively conduct its essential oversight function and to ensure the care received by our veterans meets the highest standards,” the letter states. “Our veterans deserve the VA's complete candor, transparency and accountability, and we therefore respectfully request your immediate attention to this matter.”
In an email response, VA national spokesman Mark Ballesteros said the VA has responded to many congressional requests for information and would continue to do so.
The White House press office did not respond to Tribune-Review requests for comment.
The House Veterans' Affairs oversight subcommittee asked VA officials on Jan. 22 for all internal documents and email messages related to the Pittsburgh outbreak, according to the lawmakers' letter. The subcommittee sought anything since 2007 from the national VA office in Washington, the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System and the Pittsburgh-based Veterans Integrated Service Network 4 regional office that mentions Legionella bacteria or Legionnaires' disease.
The organizations were to turn over the email messages by Feb. 12; everything else was due Jan. 29, lawmakers said.
But the VA so far “has furnished only a small fraction of the requested information,” the letter states. VA officials shared “a very limited number of documents” on March 21 and have “yet to produce a single email relating to the outbreak,” it adds.
“We are now well beyond any reasonable period” for turnover of the documents, Rothfus said.
As many as 21 veterans contracted Legionnaires' disease, a potentially deadly form of pneumonia, after being exposed to Legionella-contaminated water at Pittsburgh VA facilities in Oakland and O'Hara between February 2011 and November 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Five of those veterans died.
After failing to get the records, congressional aides on March 26 revised the request to demand that the VA turn over nine specific documents, Ballesteros told the Trib on Friday. Those documents would provide details such as written plans for Legionella prevention, annual results of disease screening and past maintenance records for the water systems.
Ballesteros said on Friday that the VA was compiling the information.
Other agencies reviewing the outbreak include the CDC and the VA Office of Inspector General, which is expected to release by late April an investigative report sought by Sen. Bob Casey Jr., D-Scranton.
David J. Hickton, the U.S. attorney for Western Pennsylvania, has pledged his own independent review once the inspector general's report is complete.
Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
- Man found shot twice, dead in Larimer
- Work on tournament-class dek hockey rink in Bloomfield to begin
- Officials ID Elizabeth Township man as West End train victim
- Bullied South Fayette student’s case prompts wiretap overhaul legislation
- South Fayette parents express dissatisfaction with handling of bullying
- South Fayette mother wants case against bullied son to be dropped
- Obama hopes to replicate CCAC job training efforts across United States
- Woman charged in Schuylkill County stabbing death
- Hays eagles chat transcript: March 27, 2014
- New Mexican War Streets grocer connects with North Side neighborhood
- Newsmaker: Joel Koricich