Lawmakers Push Reviews of VA Outbreak
Smeltz, Adam, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Two lawmakers intensified scrutiny of the VA on Friday, calling for more reviews of the fatal Legionnaires' disease outbreak in the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System.
Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, urged VA Inspector General George J. Opfer to start an independent investigation and called on department officials to be more transparent and responsive.
Rep. Mike Doyle said he wants the House Committee on Veterans Affairs to convene a hearing and look at "where systemic failures occurred."
"It's not that the VA has been uncooperative. It's just that new questions keep coming up every day," said Doyle, D-Forest Hills. "We're trying to get to the bottom of the scope of this. Is it five people? Is it 16 people?"
Tests found five people contracted Legionnaires' in the outbreak, tentatively linked to tainted tap water at the VA University Drive Campus in Oakland, according to the VA. One patient at the VA died, the Allegheny County Health Department reported.
More families think their loved ones may have died of Legionnaires' contracted at the Oakland hospital, Casey aides said. They heard from relatives of three people who died there in 2011 and 2012. Those families believe the outbreak may be to blame.
"We need to know what happened, why it happened" and how the VA will prevent it from happening again, Casey said.
The Oakland hospital had 29 total Legionnaires' cases between January 2011 and November 2012, though only five are known to have originated within the facility, according to the VA. It documented those cases between November 2011 and November 2012, spokesman David Cowgill has said.
At least eight of the 29 cases began in other locations, the VA reported. Origins of the others are unclear.
Casey said his worries center on the VA response to the outbreak, on hospital conditions and on public communications. The senator said he had yet to receive answers from VA Secretary Eric Shinseki on a dozen questions he submitted last week.
Casey said the VA's "lack of response, lack of access to information makes people like me skeptical."
An Illinois manufacturer said it warned the Pittsburgh VA as early as December 2011 about problems with key water treatment systems in Oakland.
VA officials asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta to assist with a Pittsburgh Legionnaires' outbreak in late October, though they did not inform the public until Nov. …