U.S. Attorney: No charges warranted in Legionnaires outbreak at VA hospital

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U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton announced today that there will be no federal criminal charges brought against anyone for the “tragic” illnesses and deaths of veterans because of Legionnaire’s outbreak at the Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Healthcare System,

“The investigation has been a high priority of my Office and federal law enforcement for the last nine months,” he said in an emailed statement. “The focus of our work was not to determine exactly how patients contracted the disease, but rather whether there was evidence of any material false statements by VA officials or employees, and whether there was evidence justice had been obstructed in any way.

“Our investigation revealed no basis for charging any individual or any entity with a federal crime. Accordingly, no prosecution is warranted in this matter based upon our thorough review,” he said.

His announcement comes almost exactly one year since the outbreak was first revealed by the Pittsburgh VA in November 2012, when it said that four people had gotten sick from the water-borne disease that is a frequently fatal form of pneumonia.

Eventually, though, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that during the outbreak in 2011 and 2012 a total of 22 veterans were sickened and five of them died after contracting the disease at the Pittsburgh VA. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette later reported that at least one additional patient of those 22 veterans also may have died after contracting the disease at the Pittsburgh VA.

Mr. Hickton said senior members of his staff and experienced agents from the FBI and the VA’s Office of Inspector General conducted about 30 interviews, from maintenance workers to high-level hospital officials and consultants.

In addition, he said they analyzed and reviewed 250,000 internal VA emails, as well as including maintenance logbooks for the water treatment system the VA used to control Legionella in its water, and purchase orders for parts for the system. Also, test results and reports from the CDC and the VA Inspector General were reviewed.

“While the federal criminal investigation has concluded, consideration of the many issues raised by this tragic event will surely continue in other forums,” Mr. Hickton said. “If any new or additional evidence emerges, today’s assessment does not prevent the U.S. Attorney’s Office from reviewing such evidence and reopening the investigation if the facts warrant.”

Sean D. Hamill: shamill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2579.

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