Congress wants answers from VA on veteran left in shower after death

Times stories on a veteran's body left in a shower prompt two congressmen to seek answers.
The House Veterans Affairs Committee is looking into the handling of a veteran's body in the hospice unit at the CW Bill Young VA Medical Center.  [CHERIE DIEZ   |   Times, 2014]
The House Veterans Affairs Committee is looking into the handling of a veteran's body in the hospice unit at the CW Bill Young VA Medical Center. [CHERIE DIEZ | Times, 2014]
Published December 14 2016
Updated December 14 2016

The House Veterans Affairs Committee is demanding that Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald answer questions about a veteran whose body was left in a shower room at the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center hospice for more than nine hours in February.

The veteran, whose name has not been released, died Feb. 1 at the hospice, and an internal investigation found that some staff violated hospital and VA rules, then tried to cover up their mistakes. Two employees were fired and several others were disciplined, according to hospital officials.

In response to stories in the Tampa Bay Times, two Florida congressmen — committee Chairman Jeff Miller, a Pensacola Republican, and Gus Bilirakis, the Palm Harbor Republican and committee vice chairman — sent a letter Wednesday to McDonald seeking detailed records about the veteran's care and efforts to investigate the problems surrounding the removal of his body.

Miller and Bilirakis said they were "horrified" with "these employees' ignorance of VA's policies, their total lack of empathy for veterans and just plain human decency. While media reports now indicate that two individuals have been fired as a result of this incident, we remain concerned about the lack of transparency that VA officials have shown in this case."

As a result, the congressmen are asking for this information:

• A completed April 1, 2016, memo on the incident from the Administrative Investigation Board.

• The names, job titles and pay grades of the board members.

• Any internal VA police reports or other investigations into the incident.

• The names, job titles and pay grades of any employees who were involved in the incident and in the veteran's hospice care.

• Written copies of proposed and final disciplinary actions for all employees involved.

• The names, job titles and pay grades of the proposing and deciding officials in this case.

• A summary of the actions the VA has taken to inform the deceased veteran's next of kin of this incident.

• A summary of the training provided to the hospice staff to ensure the incident isn't repeated.

Miller and Bilirakis are asking for the information by Dec. 22.

VA officials said Wednesday they would respond to the letter and provided the Times with more detail about disciplinary action taken in connection with the incident.

All told, six employees determined to be involved in the case have been removed from patient care, the VA said. The two employees fired in April were probationary workers. Two additional employees may be fired after the outcome of due process procedures. And two employees received disciplinary letters in July and were returned to patient care.

An internal investigation report found that the body was left unattended because hospice staff members didn't make a request through proper channels to have the body removed. Instead, they contacted an individual described as a transporter, who told them to call dispatch. They never did.

At first, the body was moved to a hallway, then to a shower room, where it stayed, unattended, more than nine hours.

Once the problem was discovered, efforts to understand how it happened were stalled by failures in oversight and by reports that "falsely documented" the incident, the report says. Staffers misrepresented why the problem occurred, attributing it to a communications breakdown that never happened, according to the report.

Contact Howard Altman at [email protected] or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman.