Congressional committee looking into VA medical center deaths in Decatur

by: Scott MacFarlane Updated:

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WASHINGTON —

The chairman of a powerful congressional committee says he wants officials at the Atlanta VA Medical Center in Decatur disciplined, potentially suspended or fired, because of the scandal first reported by Channel 2 Action News.

Channel 2's Scott MacFarlane spoke to Rep. Jeff Miller, the chairman of the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee, which oversees the VA. Miller says he's also considering formal hearings to investigates what's been happening in Decatur.

Three deaths of patients have been directly linked to "mismanagement" inside the VA Medical Center. Two of deaths were ruled suicides, the other a drug overdose.

"Some of these issues, the suicides, were pretty egregious problems. Not something that happened, an accident. Somebody wasn't paying close attention," Miller told MacFarlane.

Internal auditors at the VA revealed at least two patients in the mental health unit in Decatur showed suicidal tendencies in recent months, sought help and then got lost in red tape. Ultimately, the patients killed themselves.

In another case, they found a veteran in his 20s with a history of substance abuse had managed to overdose on opiates and die inside the medical center.

The audit also found that a schizophrenic patient was allowed to roam inside the building too.

Investigative hearings either in Atlanta or Washington, D.C. are possible.

The House VA chairman told MacFarlane he wants heads to roll.

"The problem I have with the VA is that when somebody isn't doing his or her job, they don't get rid of them. They just move them around, ending up at another facility," Miller said.

“I am deeply troubled by the reports of mismanagement, complacency, and negligence at the Decatur VA Medical Center. This is unacceptable.  We must make every effort to ensure that this never happens again,” Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta, told MacFarlane

In a statement from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, spokesman Josh Taylor said, "(The) VA takes this issue seriously. As you may know, VA concurred with all of the Office of Inspector General Office of Healthcare Inspections recommendations and is committed to providing the best care possible for our nation’s veterans.

"VA recognizes the importance of providing national policy to all VA medical centers addressing hazardous items, visitation, urine drug screens and staff escorts for inpatient mental health programs. VA will monitor the quality mental health care and contract management to ensure that Veterans receive the highest quality medical care from VA and its partners."