Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

VA meets with Biliarkis over Coast Guard veteran's death

TARPON SPRINGS — The spokeswoman for the James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa told Rep. Gus Bilirakis Saturday that privacy issues prevented full disclosure to him about a man's death at the facility.

This is the first time Haley told Bilirakis that he didn't get complete information about the June 30 death of Coast Guard veteran Richard Stecher, 64, of Tarpon Springs.

The Bilirakis visit by spokeswoman Carolyn Clark came the day the St. Petersburg Times reported gaps in the three-page letter Haley sent to Bilirakis on July 24.

Bilirakis isn't the only member of Congress the Department of Veterans Affairs decided wasn't owed complete disclosure on Stecher. The Times discovered on Saturday that the VA sent Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., the exact same letter.

Both Nelson and Bilirakis had received a complaint about Stecher's care from his companion of 19 years, Mary Nicholl, and asked the VA for answers.

"We're open and we're transparent," Clark said in an interview.

But openness and transparency are sometimes the very thing the agency cannot provide — even to Congress — if privacy laws demands silence, Clark said.

"None of this makes any sense to me," said Nicholl, who thinks the VA is hiding its poor care of Stecher.

Now, Bilirakis is opening his own informal inquiry to decide who is right.

Nicholl met Bilirakis at his second annual Military Day event and provided a tearful account of Stecher's last several months.

Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, said he may meet with Haley officials next week for answers.

"I'm angry," Bilirakis said. "I'm very upset at the case, the fact that there could have been problems with this gentleman's care."

He said he would be disappointed if he discovered he was misled by the VA. "But I don't want them to break any laws, either," Bilirakis said.

In a meeting with Nicholl on July 23, Haley's chief of staff apologized and said three doctors "missed opportunities" to treat Stecher after he began getting sick early this year. A bowel obstruction went undiagnosed.

Haley also told Nicholl that the VA — which is short on radiologists — sent Nicholl to a private firm for a CAT scan in April. But a non-VA radiologist did not have previous scans for a critical comparison, documents show.

Stecher, Haley said, should have been admitted to the hospital after that CAT scan. Instead, he was admitted June 27 and died after emergency surgery.

Few of these details are provided in the letters to Nelson and Bilirakis. Instead, the letters go on at length about very specific complaints by Nicholl that are not always central to Stecher's death.

Why privacy issues prevented disclosure of many medical facts while simultaneously allowing release of other medical information is something Bilirakis said he will investigate.

"I can't wave a magic wand," he told Nicholl. "But I'll do what I can."

William R. Levesque can be reached at (813) 226-3436 or levesque@sptimes.com.

VA meets with Biliarkis over Coast Guard veteran's death 08/09/08 [Last modified: Monday, August 11, 2008 3:15pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Lost Highway: As FHP struggles to recruit, speeding tickets plummet

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — The number of speeding tickets written by Florida state troopers has plunged three straight years as the agency grapples with a personnel shortage and high turnover.

    A Florida Highway Patrol Academy class in the late 1980s. Typically, graduating classes had about 80 recruits. But the most recent class has less than half that as the agency continues to struggle to fill vacancies. [

Florida: Highway Patrol]
  2. Kidpreneurs — and adults — capitalize on gooey, squishy Slime craze

    Retail

    First it was Play-Doh. Then Gak. There have been dozens of variations for sale of the oozy, gooey, squishable, stretchable kids' toy through the generations.

    Aletheia Venator and Berlyn Perdomo demonstrate the stretchiness of their slime. - Berlyn Perdomo and her friend, Aletheia Venator, both 13, make and sell slime which can be seen on their instagram site @the.real.slimeshadyy [JIM DAMASKE   |   Times]
  3. After last year's drug-related deaths, Tampa's Sunset Music Festival says it's stepping up safety, security

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — Alex Haynes worked three jobs. He had a fiance and an infant son. He owned his own home in Melbourne. Last summer, the 22-year-old attended the Sunset Musical Festival at Raymond James Stadium.

    He left in an ambulance.

    Last year’s Sunset Music Festival was marked by dozens of medical emergencies.
  4. What you need to know for Friday, May 26

    News

    Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.

    Read this morning why Florida's most prized sweet corn is nearly extinct. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  5. The last farmer of Florida's prized Zellwood corn is thinking of packing it in

    Consumer

    MOUNT DORA — Hank Scott steps out of his pickup between the long rows and snaps off an ear that grows about bellybutton-high on the forehead-high stalks.

    Hank Scott, co-owner of Long and Scott Farms, shucks an ear of corn on the farm in Mount Dora, Fla., on Wednesday, May 10, 2017. The farm specializes in Scott's Zellwood Triple-Sweet Gourmet Corn. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times