Families and lawmakers claim VA broke transparency promise

by: Aaron Diamant Updated:

Loading
DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. —

There is increasing pressure on the Atlanta VA Medical Center to fire workers and make public who's been disciplined after a Channel 2 Action News investigation exposed a series of patient deaths.

When the Atlanta VA's new director showed up last month, Leslie Wiggins gave herself a 30 day deadline to figure out how deep the problems go.

That deadline has passed and still no one with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, at any level, will say who's been punished for problems that led to those patient deaths.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Aaron Diamant found Brandie Petit fuming mad after finding out the Department of Veterans Affairs flat out won't say what disciplinary action it took against staffers at the center of the scandal.

"You need to let the public know," Petit said. "The American people need to have confidence that the VA is doing what they're supposed to do to take care of our veterans."

Channel 2 Action News confirmed her brother Joseph Petit's suicide inside the DeKalb County hospital last November, went unnoticed by administrators and staff for nearly 24 hours.

Our discovery sparked fury from federal lawmakers, who called for heads to roll, just days after we first uncovered VA Inspector General reports that blamed mismanagement by hospital leaders for three other patient deaths.

"People need to be fired over this," Rep. Phil Gingrey said in May.

Wiggins permanently replaced the hospital's interim director in May.

"I'm committed to making all changes that I do here as a medical center, as much as I can, as public as I can," Wiggins promised after just three hours on the job.

One month later, there are no firings despite the four deaths. Sources have confirmed several staffers have been disciplined, but so far Wiggins won't say who or how.

"(The) VA has reviewed the [Inspector General] report including any recommendations. Appropriate actions have been taken in response. Privacy laws in place to protect the rights of individuals prevent VA from publicly discussing agency actions regarding specific employees," the Department of Veterans Affairs said in a statement.

That excuse that does not sit well with Brandie Petit.

"My message to her is, it's a public thing," Petit said. "She needs to bring it out in the public. She needs to let the American people know what's going on. We have the right to know."

It seems House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman agrees with Petit.

Friday afternoon Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida sent a statement to Channel 2 Action News saying, "Four Atlanta VA Medical Center patients are dead. Three of those deaths have been linked to mismanagement, yet no Atlanta VAMC employees have been fired or received any serious punishment.

"This is not only a slap in the face to the families of the veterans who died, but a disturbing example of VA's well-documented accountability problem. There is nothing in current privacy laws that prevents VA from holding its employees accountable, and it's well past time for department officials to stop using that tired excuse.

"If VA officials don't feel patient deaths linked to mismanagement warrant serious punishments for employees, they should explain that position to the taxpayers who fund their salaries."