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VA's blind spot: Intolerable

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Backing the regional director who oversaw the Pittsburgh VA Health System while five veterans died as a result of its Legionnaires' disease outbreak from February 2011 to November 2012 — and even more outrageously backing the nearly $80,000 in bonuses that Michael Moreland collected during that period — Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki defends the indefensible.

In a letter last week to U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, Mr. Shinseki mind-bogglingly called Mr. Moreland “an outstanding professional who continuously demonstrates strength, commitment, integrity and a relentless commitment to public service.” He even defended Moreland's infectious disease policies being among reasons for awarding his bonuses — including one White House-approved and worth $63,000 in October 2012, a month before word of the Legionnaires' outbreak reached national VA leaders.

Bereaved loved ones of the veterans lost to Legionnaires' are understandably upset. It's hard to believe that Moreland, his top VA Pittsburgh Health System subordinates (some of whom got unjustifiable bonuses, too) and even Shinseki still have their jobs, much less bonuses or authority to award them.

If this is how the VA treats top officials linked with fatal consequences for its patients, what sort of staff failure might it actually punish ?

Without a top-to-bottom housecleaning, it's all too likely that the VA again will betray its sacred duty to all who've worn America's uniform, just as it betrayed those five dead veterans.

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