Four staff at the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs resigned after maggots were found in the wound of a Vietnam veteran who died in October. Another VA staff member insisted that the maggots did not cause his death.
Raymie Parker identified the man as his father, 73-year-old Owen Reese Peterson. “During the 21 days I was there … I pled with the medical staff, the senior medical staff, to increase his meds so his bandages could be changed,” Parker told the Tulsa World. “I was met with a stonewall for much of that time.”
Executive Director Myles Deering explained the maggots were discovered while Peterson was alive, but did not cause his death. Rather, the man came into the VA hospital with an infection and died “as a result of the sepsis,” complications from that infection. Nevertheless, Deering must have hated saying the words, “He did not succumb as a result of the parasites.”
That there were any parasites involved is a disgrace, and the staff members who resigned must have known it.
Shane Faulkner, a spokesman for the agency, announced that a physician’s assistant and three nurses “chose to resign before the termination process began.” This followed an investigation once the agency reported the incident to the Oklahoma Department of Health. The VA also submitted a report to the district attorney to see if charges are warranted.
The willing resignation of VA staff is surprising, since “there’s not an ability to fire individuals who aren’t doing their job,” said Cody McGregor, a retired Army sniper and national outreach director at Concerned Veterans for America (CVA). Sharon Helman, former head of the VA in Phoenix, AZ, was one of the first people fired after the VA reform law passed in 2014, but she has been able to sue for her job back, and seems to have won a legal victory.
The case of Owen Reese Peterson underscores the need for real accountability at the VA.
“It is heartbreaking that the VA is treating sick and injured veterans in this degrading and negligent manner,” declared CVA Executive Director Mark Lucas. “We should never open the news to find headlines of maggots in the wounds of American heroes.”
Lucas condemned “DC beaureaucrats” who “stand idly by as tragedy after tragedy hits the veteran community at the hands of bad VA employees.” “This is the VA status quo: veterans dying with maggots in their wounds.”
Next Page: The answer to “this never-ending nightmare.”
“This is not a puzzling situation,” Lucas declared. “The answer to this never-ending nightmare is strong accountability and choice measures. VA employees should be held to the highest performance standards possible, and veterans should be empowered to go outside the VA if the VA is failing them.”
Nevertheless, Lucas expressed optimism. “With a new Congress, a new president-Elect, and soon, a new VA secretary, there is finally a promising opportunity to turn things around.”
This optimism should not be surprising, as Pete Hegseth, former CEO of CVA, is on the short list for President-elect Trump’s VA secretary. Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin are also rumored to be in the running.
Even if the new administration carries some promise for VA reform, these tragedies cannot be reversed. Let us mourn with the victims and press for accountability to end the long cycle of abuse.