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The Veterans Affairs/Legionella mess: It grows & grows ...

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Monday, June 17, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Just when you thought the Legionella scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs' hospitals in Pittsburgh couldn't get any worse, it explodes.

As the Trib reported on Sunday, the bacteria that can lead to Legionnaires' disease were running rampant at the VA's hospital in Oakland five years before officials publicly confirmed a deadly outbreak in November 2012. In fact, Legionella bacteria levels were so high between September 2007 and November 2011 that at least 30 percent of faucets, shower heads and public water fountains tested positive for the bacteria. Shockingly, a Sept. 21, 2007, report shows Legionella in 17 of 19 samples taken from surgical and medical intensive-care units.

What's yet to be determined is if any additional patients were sickened or died. Twenty-one veterans fell ill in the publicly disclosed outbreak, five of whom died. Thirty years ago, another outbreak sickened 100 veterans, about 30 of whom died.

And as per usual, Veterans Affairs has clammed up. It took a Freedom of Information Act filing to shake loose the VA's dirty big secrets. The agency already under fire for its previous nondisclosures is the subject of investigations by the VA inspector general, a congressional subcommittee and the Justice Department. These new revelations necessarily will increase federal scrutiny.

Sadly and tragically, the latest developments only reinforce the notion that those charged with protecting our veterans have been threatening them the most.

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