On Thursday, NBC Washington reported that a military veteran was discovered dead in a car outside the Washington, D.C. Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center last month, after his family asked the center to look for him when he went missing two days earlier.
“First and foremost, my thoughts and prayers go out to this family,” Congressman Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) declared. “I am absolutely outraged that a veteran who served our nation died alone, in his car, outside the DC VA Medical Center. That is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated, and it’s certainly no way to treat the men and women who have served.”
Roe’s committee, the U.S. House Committee on Veterans Affairs, will investigate the incident, along with the Metropolitan Police Department, the D.C. medical examiner, and top officials with the DC VA Medical Center. Specifically, the VA is being questioned about a delay in finding the man’s body despite multiple requests from his family to look for him.
A relative of the veteran said she reported the man missing when he did not return from an appointment at the medical center on May 15. She added that his body was not found until the early morning hours of May 17 and was only discovered by the man’s sister when she searched the parking lot herself.
According to a police report, the veteran was found “slumped over” and unconscious in a vehicle in the medical center’s parking lot.
“Our hearts are with the family members of this veteran,” Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), Roe’s fellow member on the House VA committee, said in a statement. “We are saddened by the manner in which he passed away and we are sickened to know that, despite being contacted by family members, the Washington, D.C. VA did not do enough to locate this veteran and inform his family.”
Acting Director Larry Connell announced, “We’re investigating the time lag.” He added that the medical examiner is still determining the cause of death, but he has already “met with the veteran’s sister that evening and expressed our condolences.”
Connell was brought in to replace former D.C. VA Director Bryan Hawkins, who was reassigned after a scathing inspector general report about the lack of sterile instruments at the medical center.
That report recounted an incident where a patient was prepared for vascular surgery and already put under anesthesia when it was discovered the surgeon lacked the necessary instrument for the operation. The inspector general also found discolored surgical instruments unsuitable for use. Medical staff reportedly had to borrow supplies, including bloodlines and surgical pieces, from nearby centers.
The inspector general report listed 18 different sterile storage areas the medical center had allowed to be contaminated by dirty conditions. Investigators found expired medical equipment on site, and some of it was used in a June 2016 patient procedure.
It remains unclear whether or not the D.C. VA is fully responsible for the death of this veteran or his missing status, but that does not diminish the need for widespread reform at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
In April, Secretary Shulkin noted that he could not immediately fire an employee who was caught watching porn on the job. Last June, the Houston VA was caught falsifying appointments, and this past December an Oklahoma veteran died with maggots in his wound at the VA. Earlier this year, a GAO report revealed that VA employees worked over 1 million hours for unions on the taxpayers’ dime.
Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) introduced a bipartisan bill to reform the VA last month, which was only necessary (after the House passed a similar bill) because a federal court ruled the firing of a felon former Phoenix VA director unconstitutional on a technicality. The Senate cannot pass Rubio’s version swiftly enough.