Posted: 8:42 p.m. Monday, Aug. 5, 2013

GSU prepares for rare Senate hearing over VA deaths

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Atlanta VA Hospital photo
Data provided to Channel 2 Action News sources show the Atlanta region's VA offices got a $100 million funding increase for 2013.
Atlanta VA Hospital Investigation photo
Dr. Robert Petzel, Department of Veterans Affairs undersecretary for health, said he isn't focused on who's to blame for mismanagement by Atlanta VA Medical Center leaders -- which federal investigators linked to at least three mental-health patient deaths in scathing reports first exposed by Channel 2 Action News.

ATLANTA —

In just days a local university will host an important U.S. Senate hearing that comes as a direct result of a Channel 2 Action News investigation.

That investigation exposed federal reports linking mismanagement by Atlanta VA Medical Center hospital leaders to three patient deaths.

Wednesday morning, Sen. Johnny Isakson will chair a rare Senate field hearing with some of the VA's top local and national leaders at Georgia State University for an accountability session with the United States Senate.

Work is already underway to transform a Georgia State University ballroom into a United States Senate hearing room.

"Fortunately everybody's very amenable to sharing information, what their needs are, what their concerns are," said Carole Goler with Georgia State University.

"I think we were all surprised," said Gen. Jim Butterworth, adjutant general of Georgia.

Butterworth, who heads up Georgia's state's national guard, is one of several military and medical experts on tap to testify about the challenges servicemen and women face accessing care while navigating the VA's sea of red tape and potential solutions.

"I think it's a very good first proactive step to address some of those issues that were perhaps larger than a lot of folks realized," Butterworth said.

It's why the VA's under secretary for health will be on the hearing's hot seat, where he'll be pressed for specifics about who's responsible for those deaths and to defend the department's decision not to fire top hospital leaders.

"There are many ways to hold people accountable besides the loss of jobs, and believe me we are hold the appropriate people accountable," is all Dr. Robert Petzel, VA undersecretary for health, would say to Channel 2 investigative reporter Aaron Diamant when he traveled to Washington, D.C. last week to discuss the issues at the Atlanta VA Medical Center.

In the meantime, the GSU campus is buzzing where several students told Diamant that hosting the hearing is huge honor.

"I'm actually an upcoming pre-medical student, so I'll be in the field myself, so to see such an important topic be addressed here and to have it here on my own campus is very exciting," GSU senior Audrey Hughes said.

The ballroom where the hearing will be is big enough to hold more than 400 people and is open to the public.

The hearing starts at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Understandably, security is a big concern. Diamant was told university police have been coordinating with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and Capitol police for weeks and will have a big presence out on the school campus.

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