(Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks/Facebook)

WASHINGTON — Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., urged the House Committee on Veterans Affairs on Tuesday to investigate how the Department of Veterans Affairs handled the case of a pathologist in Fayetteville, Ark., who is accused of misdiagnosing patients while he was intoxicated on the job.

Robert Levy, 53, the former chief pathologist at the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks, was indicted last month on three counts of involuntary manslaughter and 28 counts of mail fraud, wire fraud and false statements to law enforcement officials. His misdiagnoses totaled more than 3,000 cases and were responsible for at least 15 deaths, The Washington Post reported.

Levy was found in 2016 to have a blood alcohol level of 0.396% while at work, five times the legal limit in Arkansas of 0.08%. He was suspended but returned to his position after completing a three-month treatment program and agreeing to random drug and alcohol screenings.

He was fired in 2018 after he was found to have used 2-methyl-2-butanol, a substance that causes intoxication in small doses but is undetectable in routine drug and alcohol tests.

Womack blasted the VA on Tuesday for its decision to return Levy to a supervisory position.

“I will never understand why the VA returned Mr. Levy to duty as a supervisor,” Womack said. “I believe in second chances, but not in life or death circumstances.”

Womack made the statements during a hearing of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, during which committee members heard from lawmakers about their concerns regarding VA facilities in their districts. He called on the committee to “conduct vigorous oversight” on the situation.

“I respectfully request your committee investigate the actions and decisions made by the VA throughout the entirety of this episode,” Womack said.

Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., the chairman of the committee, said the subcommittee on oversight and investigations was planning a hearing in the fall to discuss Levy’s case, as well as an ongoing investigation concerning the suspicious deaths of at least 10 veterans at a VA facility in West Virginia.

Two of the deaths, caused by fatal doses of insulin administered at the VA hospital in Clarksburg, W.V., have been confirmed as homicides. There is a person of interest in the case, but the VA said the allegations don’t involve any current VA employees.

“We have a duty to ensure that veterans can access care without falling victim to ‘bad actors’ within the VA systems,” said Rep. Chris Pappas, D-N.H., chairman of the subcommittee on oversight and investigations.

Regarding Levy’s case, Womack criticized the VA for its failure to communicate with lawmakers, in addition to the agency’s decision to keep Levy after he was found drunk on the job.

“The way the VA engaged with my office, with other Arkansas delegation offices, and this committee was concerning,” Womack said. “The VA is a department of the federal government and is subject to the oversight of Congress. But throughout the entire process, the VA was slow to provide important information to the relevant people.”

Takano said he was “particularly disturbed” about the VA’s lack of communication.

“Congress does have the duty to do oversight – and we will,” he said.

The VA on Tuesday rebutted Womack’s comments. The agency said it had kept elected officials informed.

“That statement is at odds with the public comments of other members of the Arkansas congressional delegation and local veterans,” a VA spokesman wrote in an email. “Communication with congressional offices was ongoing throughout the duration of the lookback to include calls in advance of all town halls to keep them informed.”

Levy was being held without bond in the Washington County Detention Center in Fayetteville, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. His bond hearing is set for Sept. 25. 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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