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VA Secretary Shinseki urged to meet with families of five Legionnaires' victims

| Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

The top executive in the Department of Veterans Affairs should meet with the five families whose loved ones died in a Legionnaires' disease outbreak in Pittsburgh that sickened 16 others, a House committee chairman says.

Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., urged VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki to offer the personal overture, making his case in a Nov. 26 letter obtained this week by the Tribune-Review.

“The veterans and families struck by this tragedy deserve some much-needed closure, which you can provide,” wrote Miller, the chairman of the influential House Committee on Veterans' Affairs. He asked Shinseki to hold accountable any workers found responsible for missteps that contributed to the outbreak from February 2011 to November 2012 in the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System.

Shinseki had not responded to the letter as of Wednesday, according to congressional aides. Responding to questions from the Trib, VA officials in Washington would not say whether Shinseki has contacted or plans to contact the affected families.

“The Veterans Health Administration is reviewing administrative actions. VA has received the congressional letter and will respond to Chairman Miller,” VA officials wrote in a statement released by spokeswoman Ramona Joyce.

VA officials did not indicate when workers might be disciplined but again extended “condolences to the families of the veterans affected by acquiring Legionella (bacteria) in our health care system” and pledged the water safety practices in the Pittsburgh VA are now among “the most rigorous in the health care industry.”

David Hickton, U.S. attorney for Western Pennsylvania, announced Nov. 21 that his office would not pursue criminal charges in the outbreak, leading several lawmakers to pressure VA administrators to disclose how they will hold workers accountable. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linked the outbreak to Legionella-tainted tap water at VA campuses in Oakland and O'Hara.

Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or asmeltz@tribweb.com.

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