VA pursues employee discipline in Pittsburgh Legionnaires' disease outbreak

The University Drive campus of VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System.


By ADAM SMELTZ AND MIKE WERESCHAGIN | The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review | Published: May 2, 2014

PITTSBURGH — The Veterans Health Administration has begun taking what it calls “administrative actions” related to a deadly Legionnaires' disease outbreak at the Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Healthcare System, the agency said on Thursday.

VA leadership has held off on disciplining anyone in the outbreak, linked to at least six deaths and 16 illnesses from February 2011 to November 2012, because of investigations by federal prosecutors and internal watchdogs.

“VHA leadership has initiated actions with careful consideration of the statutory protections and rights of employees, including due process,” VA spokeswoman Ramona Joyce said.

“While we are focused on completing this process in a timely manner, VHA's priority is to complete these actions objectively and consistent with applicable administrative guidelines and due process. When this process is complete, VA will update Congress, consistent with appropriate privacy protections for the individuals involved,” Joyce said in a statement.

She declined to say what actions were being taken or how many employees were involved.

Members of Congress have criticized the VA for failing to discipline people after failures in Pittsburgh and elsewhere led to what they believe were preventable veteran deaths.

Florida Republican Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, won the support of GOP leadership for a bill that would make it easier for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to fire people.

The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 2,500 workers at the VA Pittsburgh, has received no notices of discipline against its members, said J. Ward Morrow, the union's assistant general counsel.

“If they have evidence of (wrongdoing), it hasn't been shared with us,” Morrow said. The union has “tried to come forward as best we can” to help investigators, he added.

Adam Smeltz and Mike Wereschagin are staff writers for Trib Total Media.