Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: Lawmakers demand answers on Legionnaires' outbreak from new VA secretary
Six congressional Republicans are asking the secretary of Veterans Affairs to intervene personally in their attempt to find out who was disciplined over a deadly Legionnaires' disease outbreak at VA Pittsburgh.
“The lack of responsiveness and bureaucratic stonewalling is unacceptable, and we believe this now deserves your immediate and personal attention,” states the letter dated Oct. 1 to Secretary Robert McDonald. Three Western Pennsylvania House members, two committee chairs and U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey of Lehigh County signed the letter.
Members of Congress have repeatedly asked for details about discipline in the nearly two years since VA officials disclosed the outbreak.
“We just received the letter today and will respond accordingly,” Ramona Joyce, a VA spokeswoman, said Thursday.
At least six veterans died and at least 16 others were sickened during the outbreak. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it lasted from February 2011 to November 2012, but a Tribune-Review investigation documented patient diagnoses and water tests showing dangerous levels of Legionella bacteria in the Oakland and O'Hara hospitals as far back as 2007.
Internal emails among VA leaders, which the Trib obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, contradict testimony from top VA officials about the outbreak before Congress.
In August, then-Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson placed VA Pittsburgh Director Terry Gerigk Wolf on paid administrative leave because of the outbreak. VA officials told Congress in July that they would discipline five people but would not say whom or how.
“We simply believe the veterans and the families involved have a right to know,” said Rep. Keith Rothfus of Sewickley, who signed the letter with Tim Murphy of Upper St. Clair, Mike Kelly of Butler, House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller of Florida and Mike Coffman of Colorado, chairman of the Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.
The outbreak and the VA's response contributed to a national outcry over management of the department, which is the government's second-largest. Former Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned because of a subsequent scandal involving secret waiting lists that VA administrators across the country used to mask wait times for appointments.
Wolf received a nearly $13,000 bonus in 2011. The White House approved a $63,000 bonus for her supervisor, former regional director Michael Moreland, who resigned without punishment in November despite repeated calls from Congress that he be disciplined.
“These taxpayer-funded bonuses were inappropriate, deeply offensive to the victims of the outbreak and their families, and ultimately should be returned,” the letter states.