VA quiet on employee discipline in Legionnaires' disease outbreak
A month since they demanded transparency, Pennsylvania congressmen are waiting for the Department of Veterans Affairs to reveal how it will hold workers accountable for a Pittsburgh disease outbreak blamed for five deaths.
“I am extremely frustrated but not surprised” by the delay, said Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, who urged the VA to be more transparent. “The trust that veterans have in the VA will only be restored when the department's leadership is totally honest and open with the men and women they are required to serve.”
Murphy asked the VA in November to share with him by the week of Dec. 9 all internal findings and discipline stemming from the outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System. Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Sewickley, and Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh Valley, made similar requests.
As many as 21 veterans contracted Legionnaires' disease between February 2011 and November 2012 from bacteria-tainted tap water at VA campuses in Oakland and O'Hara, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A review by the VA Office of Inspector General found the Pittsburgh VA did not follow established guidelines in combating the waterborne Legionella bacteria that cause Legionnaires' disease, a severe form of pneumonia, though an investigation under U.S. Attorney David Hickton identified no criminal wrongdoing.
“The VA has a long way to go before all the issues raised by the Legionnaires' outbreak in Pittsburgh are addressed,” said Sen. Bob Casey Jr., D-Scranton, who urged accountability.
He said the VA “must demonstrate a commitment to continue reforming its practices so that there is better coordination and communication with patients and family members.”
The VA is continuing an internal review to develop “recommended administrative actions” after the outbreak, VA officials said in a written statement to the Tribune-Review. They did not say when that review might be completed or whether any workers were disciplined.
“Again, the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System extends its condolences to the families of the veterans affected by acquiring Legionella in our health care system,” the statement read. It said the water-safety regimen there “is now among the most rigorous” in health care.
For those found responsible in the outbreak, details of any disciplinary consequences could be shielded from full public view. VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki has said “internal personnel actions must remain confidential.”
Federal privacy rules generally prohibit disclosure of certain personal information about government workers, including disciplinary records, unless an employee allows release of that information, the Office of Personnel Management reported.
Still, that should not preclude the VA from disclosing disciplinary actions to Congress, according to the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs. The committee is continuing its investigation into the outbreak.
“We understand on some level these things are personnel matters, and we understand this is still a matter subject to litigation. But there's also a public interest here,” said J. Ward Morrow, assistant general counsel for the American Federation of Government Employees in Washington.
He said the union representing 2,500 Pittsburgh VA workers is not aware of discipline ordered because of the Legionnaires' outbreak.
“People need to know that the VA is taking this very seriously — and not just with pronouncements, but with actual actions,” Morrow said.
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.
- Animal welfare groups see opportunities in dialogue about Vick signing
- Board members bring business attitude to nonprofit August Wilson
- Man critical after being shot in Pittsburgh’s Knoxville neighborhood
- Port Authority’s plan for car-free communities slow to bear fruit
- Shaler man charged with homicide, abuse of corpse in McKeesport woman’s death
- W.Pa. to observe International Overdose Awareness Day
- Penn Hills fire displaces 10
- Solarize Allegheny powers up with more communities
- Newsmaker: Tamika Duck
- 3 Brentwood council members submit resignation letters
- Allegheny County police officer on leave after assault charges filed