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PA Lawmakers Want Accountability for Preventable Deaths at Pittsburgh VA

It has been a little more than a week since the United States Justice Department completed its investigation of a rash of preventable deaths at the Pittsburgh Veteran’s Affairs Healthcare System.

Five veterans died of Legionnaires’ disease at the Pittsburgh VA in 2011 and 2012, while more than 20 other patients were sickened. The Justice Department has concluded that no VA employees are criminally liable for the deaths.

But U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-PA-12) and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) both believe that someone should be held accountable, if not criminally, then at least administratively.

In September, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held a field hearing in Pittsburgh, questioning U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Under Secretary Robert A. Petzel, among others.

“(Petzel) testified that he was holding off on administrative response until the (Inspector General) had concluded the criminal investigation, so we’d like to see what they’re going to be proposing to do,” Rothfus said.

On Tuesday, Rothfus and Toomey co-authored a letter to Petzel's boss, Secretary Eric Shinseki, asking that they be informed of any administrative actions to be taken.

“The motivation is a frustration with a lack of accountability, in my perspective, with respect to what has happened at the Pittsburgh VA after the Inspector General found systemic failures last spring … that resulted in the preventable deaths of five veterans,” Rothfus said.

While Rothfus would not specify who he thinks should be held accountable for the deaths, the September hearing placed Michael Moreland, former regional director for VA Pittsburgh, squarely in the hot seat. Moreland has since resigned, and has been replaced by Acting Director Gary Devansky, who previous worked at a VA facility in Philadelphia.  

“You’ve got to look at what was going on the in the administration, you’ve got to look at the people responsible for making sure that testing was being done appropriately, and then you start to identify those individuals,” said Rothfus.

Rothfus said both he and Toomey have heard from families of those who died at the Pittsburgh VA, including the family of William Nicklas. Nicklas died from Legionnaires’ more than two weeks after CDC scientists arrived in Pittsburgh to investigate.

“You would ask that the VA consider what the families have been through over the last couple years,” Rothfus said. “We just marked the first anniversary of the death of Mr. Nicklas, who died a year ago this past weekend. It is time for us to learn how folks can be held accountable.”