VA Field Hearing in Pittsburgh goes about as well as you'd expect
You will perhaps remember that we covered the issue of VA Bonuses at the Pittsburgh office back in May. At the time National Commander Koutz said:
“The American Legion is concerned that the VA doesn’t seem to be taking their own Inspector General reports seriously. It’s astonishing the VA IG report would find a specific facility failed to follow long-existing guidelines which resulted in the death of five veterans, and yet within a week’s time the Director of that region should be singled out for the government’s highest employee honor. It defies all logic. Even the government’s own guidance is clear. The Office of Personnel Management clearly states nominees for this award must not be involved in any investigation or situation which would cause embarrassment. I certainly think this qualifies as such a case.”
So yesterday the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held a field hearing at the Allegheny County Courthouse in western Pennsylvania. As the title already informed you, it went as well as you'd expect:
Top health care officials at the Department of Veterans Affairs apologized for a recent string of preventable patient deaths, but not for the big performance bonuses paid out afterwards, during a congressional field hearing in Pittsburgh Monday.
The apologies followed tearful testimony from the families of veterans who died at VA facilities in Pittsburgh and Atlanta, and from agency whistleblowers who described cover-ups and retaliation by hospital administrators when they tried to expose wrongdoing.
Yet, despite acknowledging the “deeply compelling and very upsetting” stories of how VA failures led to the deaths, Robert Petzel, the department's under-secretary for health, maintained that the bonuses paid to top administrators were justified and in some cases legally required.
That includes the nearly $63,000 bonus paid to Michael Moreland, director of the VA health care region that includes Pittsburgh, where at least five patient deaths resulted from an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease between July 2011 and November 2012.
If you want to watch the whole 3 hour hearing, the Examiner story above has the videotape of the hearing. As we noted earlier on the main Legion page:
The American Legion was the only veterans service organization to submit written testimony to the hearing. The Legion noted that it had been 338 days since the Pennsylvania Bureau of Laboratories contacted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding a possible outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease at the VA medical center. “It has been 338 days for the veterans of Pittsburgh and two things are certain: five veterans are still dead, and the public has not seen any consequences for the leadership failures that led to those deaths.”
Recounting the failures in management and patient-safety at several VA facilities in its testimony, the Legion said that its System Worth Saving (SWS) Task Force “will be addressing all of these locations in follow-up visits in the coming year, and looks forward to sharing the results of our independent research with the committee and with the public. For the time being, the close scrutiny of the veterans’ community must be on VA to evaluate their reaction and response to addressing these terrible lapses.”
Ron Conley, past national commander of The American Legion and architect of the Legion’s SWS program, attended the hearing. “There has to be some accountability," he said. "It doesn’t seem like the VA is structured to make people accountable for errors and mistakes. VA health care is the best health care in the nation. But when you run into problems, you have to take immediate action to straighten those problems out and – if necessary – give out appropriate punishment to the people involved.”
We will probably have more updates on this in the coming weeks. I'm actually unclear where we stand here. If VA gave this guy a bonus while he was under an IG investigation (which he was) is there a way of recouping that money? Because the rules governing the bonuses state that he wasn't eligible. So I'm not sure what happens from here.