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Peter Kaisen

Peter Kaisen (Family photo)

Peter Kaisen

Peter Kaisen (Family photo)

The Northport VA Medical Center.

The Northport VA Medical Center. (VA)

WASHINGTON -- A House veterans affairs subcommittee is investigating the Northport VA Medical Center in New York, probing issues ranging from deteriorating facilities to a veteran’s suicide there two weeks ago.

The subcommittee will hold a field hearing on Long Island, N.Y., on Sept. 20, Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-NY, announced late Wednesday. Members of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs have been investigating the 502-bed teaching hospital for more than a month, a committee staffer said, following news reports of its five operating rooms being forced to close after black particles spewed from aging ventilation ducts.

The investigation has been broadened to include the suicide of Peter Kaisen -- a 76-year-old veteran and retired police officer who shot himself in the Northport parking lot Aug. 21, the staffer said.

The New York Times quoted two anonymous VA employees who said Kaisen had sought emergency mental health care at the hospital but had been turned away. Hospital officials said there was “no indication” of that.

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., and Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., sent a letter to the FBI and VA Secretary Bob McDonald last week asking for a transparent investigation into Kaisen’s death. The FBI is involved since Kaisen died on federal property.

Zeldin, in a news release announcing the hearing, said he had received a “chorus of complaints and allegations” about the Northport VA over the past few months. The release does not cite details of the allegations, and staff member Jennifer DiSiena said no more details would be released. The hospital has been under scrutiny for mismanagement and poor care since May, according to the Times.

Zeldin said the VA is “stonewalling” the committee’s efforts to investigate by not responding to a letter that Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., sent McDonald on July 29.

In the letter, Miller, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, cites news reports of flooded pedestrian tunnels, damaged roofs, vacant buildings and a ruptured cooling tower at the Northport VA. He asked for the hospital’s maintenance and inspection records, among other things, by Aug. 26.

In a written statement Thursday, VA Deputy Press Secretary Victoria Glynn said the VA is “investigating the issues raised in the chairman’s letter.” She said the VA would provide Miller a response “as soon as possible.” Twitter: @nikkiwentling

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Nikki Wentling has worked for Stars and Stripes since 2016. She reports from Congress, the White House, the Department of Veterans Affairs and throughout the country about issues affecting veterans, service members and their families. Wentling, a graduate of the University of Kansas, previously worked at the Lawrence Journal-World and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The National Coalition of Homeless Veterans awarded Stars and Stripes the Meritorious Service Award in 2020 for Wentling’s reporting on homeless veterans during the coronavirus pandemic. In 2018, she was named by the nonprofit HillVets as one of the 100 most influential people in regard to veterans policymaking.
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