TAMPA — Sen. Bill Nelson asked the Department of Veterans Affairs inspector general on Thursday to investigate the James A. Haley VA Medical Center's use of a camera disguised to look like a smoke detector in a patient's room.
Nelson sought an inquiry to determine whether Haley had ever used hidden cameras before and whether any other VA hospital had ever done so.
This comes on top of an investigation launched earlier this week by the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee. Haley spokeswoman Carolyn Clark said the VA will no longer answer questions about the camera. Its use was first reported in a July 10 story by the Tampa Bay Times.
The VA has sent a response to the committee. Both the VA and committee, chaired by Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Pensacola, refused to provide a copy to the Times.
"It goes without saying that this incident raises serious questions," Nelson said in a letter to George J. Opfer, the VA's inspector general. The IG's office typically does not comment on cases referred to it.
The family of severely brain-damaged veteran Joseph Carnegie, 80, noticed the odd-looking smoke detector on the ceiling of his private room in June. It had mysteriously appeared overnight. Carnegie's son-in-law was shocked to see a camera when he took a closer look.
The family said the camera was installed after they threatened the VA with a lawsuit alleging substandard care at the hospital near Tampa caused Carnegie's brain damage.
William R. Levesque can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3432.