Deaths spur reprimands at Atlanta VA


The Atlanta VA Medical Center reprimanded two employees and recommended reprimands for two more, as of mid-June, in response to devastating federal audits linking three patient deaths to pervasive mismanagement of the hospital’s mental health unit.

The Department of Veterans Affairs’ response to a U.S. House committee is the first window into the disciplinary response to a pair of April audits of the Decatur hospital. A new director, Leslie Wiggins, was installed last month, but the results of her initial 30-day review have not yet been made public.

The reprimands were detailed in a June 11 response to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. Two unnamed employees were reprimanded April 25, and the department proposed another reprimand May 9 and a fourth May 30, but the latter two have not been finalized. A reprimand can appear in an employee’s file for up to three years, but can be destroyed after six months depending on the employee’s behavior.

House VA Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., said the reprimands represent an insufficient response.

“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,” Miller said.

The Department of Veterans Affairs’ inspector general revealed the deaths of three veterans linked to inadequate oversight in the hospital’s mental health unit. The audits showed that many of the 4,000 veterans the hospital referred to outside mental health facilities “fell through the cracks.”

Inspectors found that a man died of an apparent drug overdose after providers failed to connect him with a psychiatrist. In another case, hospital staff told a man who tried to see a VA psychiatrist who wasn’t available to take public transportation to the emergency department. He never went and committed suicide the next day. A third patient died of an overdose of drugs given to him by another patient.

A fourth death later came to light after Miller and four Georgia congressmen toured the troubled facility in May. Last fall, a 42-year-old Army veteran taking drugs to treat depression and anxiety locked himself inside a hospital bathroom and committed suicide after being discharged by hospital staff. The 405-bed hospital serves about 90,000 veterans and is the largest such facility in the Southeast.

Several members of Congress, including Marietta Republican Phil Gingrey, have called for firings at the VA.

“The VA calls this an ‘appropriate action’ in response? I’m certain the patients’ families don’t feel the same,” Gingrey said. “Those responsible must be fired, not simply reassigned. Period. End of story.”

Atlanta Democratic U.S. Rep. David Scott, who has toured the facility and been critical of its management, urged caution as Wiggins gets settled in.

“The front-line employees deserve a professional workplace and not (one) where complaints are swept under the rug and negligent supervisors are allowed to stay on the job,” Scott said in a statement. “Atlanta veterans deserve to know that their concerns about the level of service have been heard. These concerns need to be heard loud and clear and I hope there are more than a couple of reprimands coming out of Director Wiggins’ 30-day review period.”


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Cobb County restaurant inspection scores

Cobb County • Food Big Apple, 2727 Paces Ferry Road, Atlanta. 80/B • McDonald’s, 5145 Cowan Road, Acworth. 85/B • Paleteria La Delicia, 1869 Cobb Parkway, Marietta. 91/A • Tapestry at the Old Mill, 4271 Southside Drive, Acworth. 100/A
Gridlock Guy: Our city’s parking problems are a reflection of our traffic woes
Gridlock Guy: Our city’s parking problems are a reflection of our traffic woes

Atlanta gets more flack than Roberta about how slow its traffic moves. While rush hour, lack of mass transit, and often just plain sloppy organization with big events are killing drivers softly with a very slow song, another vehicular problem needs consideration. Businesses, organizations, and cities need to do better with how they handle parking....
Cherokee County restaurant inspection scores

Cherokee County • Arby’s, 1461 Riverstone Parkway, Canton. 87/B • Bojangles, 1665 Ball Ground Highway, Canton. 91/A • Five Guys, 1359 Riverstone Parkway, Canton. 99/A • Hong Kong City, 12050 Highway 92, Woodstock. 78/C • Pizza Hut, 12050 Highway 92, Woodstock. 95/A
Fulton County restaurant inspection scores

Fulton County • Church’s Chicken, 860 Bankhead Highway, Atlanta. 92/A • Goldberg’s Bagels and Deli, 1272 W. Paces Ferry Road, Atlanta. 94/A • Hikari at Johns Creek, 10820 Abbott’s Bridge Road, Johns Creek. 91/A • Johnny’s N.Y. Style Pizza, 5495 Cascade Road, Atlanta. 86/B • Stop Bop Go, 4000 Old Milton...
Coweta County restaurant inspection scores

Coweta County • Big Chic, 7280 E. Highway 16, Senoia. 86/B • Mother’s Kitchen, 33 ½ E. Broad St., Newnan. 99/A • Neighborhood Corner Café, 12 Bonnell St., Newnan. 90/A • O’Charley’s, 545 Bullsboro Drive, Newnan. 87/B • Southern Country Restaurant, 34 Chestlehurst Road, Senoia. 95/A
More Stories