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The VA treatment: More unbridled arrogance

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Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

The same arrogance that the Department of Veterans Affairs has exhibited throughout the appalling saga of its Pittsburgh Healthcare System's deadly 2011-12 Legionnaires' disease outbreak is on display once again as it seeks dismissal of an $8 million wrongful-death federal lawsuit filed by the widow of an outbreak victim.

The VA generally denies liability for the Nov. 23, 2012, death of World War II veteran William E. Nicklas, 87, and contends federal law bars his widow, Greta M. Nicklas, 81, of Hampton from suing it. Her lawyers disagree, saying she indeed can sue so long as the proper “preliminary procedural steps” are taken.

Some details of the lawsuit's allegations may be debated, but the facts would seem to augur well for the plaintiff's side. After all, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linked the deaths of Mr. Nicklas and four others to the Legionnaires' outbreak. And the manufacturer of the VA's local water-treatment system has testified before Congress about local VA officials' repeated failures to ensure it was working properly against the bacteria that cause the disease.

However a federal judge rules on the VA's request to dismiss this lawsuit, the VA, simply by filing that request, has given itself another black eye in the court of public opinion, another reason for veterans and their families to distrust its health-care system, and another betrayal — for which it ultimately must answer — of its sacred duty to provide the best possible care for all who've worn America's uniform.

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