Isakson on VA investigation: "We're going to hold them accountable"

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ATLANTA - Channel 2 Action News has confirmed the Department of Veterans Affairs' top health care executive will testify at a U.S. Senate hearing in Atlanta.

The hearing was sparked by a Channel 2 Action News investigation into a series of patient deaths and other problems at the Atlanta VA Medical Center.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Aaron Diamant has learned that hearing will happen Aug. 7 at the Georgia State University Student Center.

Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, will chair it. He told Diamant on Friday the public is invited to see top VA leaders on the hot seat. He promised they will not be let off the hook.

Isakson didn't mince words about his expectations for the rare Senate Veterans Affairs Committee field hearing.

"There is no wiggle room. There is no margin of error. We got to have the facts and nothing but the facts," Isakson said.

A Channel 2 Action News investigation last April exposed federal reports that blamed mismanagement by Atlanta VA Medical Center leaders for patient deaths, including two suicides, plus security problems, bad patient monitoring and poor oversight of outpatient programs.

As recently as two weeks ago, new hospital director Leslie Wiggins remained emphatic, saying, "I cannot say that I think anyone should be fired."

So far, only two nameless hospital staffers got a letter of reprimand. Isakson is reserving judgment on firings for now.

"We're also not out to get a scalp just to say 'look what we did,'" Isakson said.

On tap to testify are VA Undersecretary for Health Robert Petzel and director Wiggins, plus a long list of Georgia military and medical leaders.

The goal is to get to the bottom of what went wrong and how best to fix it while holding those responsible accountable.

"They're not going to be hiding, because you are going to be right there with your camera in the hearing like everybody else and we're going to hold them accountable for the answers they give," Isakson said.

Recently, several other lawmakers have demanded that VA Secretary Eric Shinseki testify at next month's hearing.

Isakson said that won't happen this time but could at future hearings in Washington, D.C.