Philadelphia-area Veterans Affairs official to succeed Michael Moreland, who retired after deadly Pittsburgh Legionnaires' outbreak

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Families of victims of the Legionnaires' disease outbreak here, as well as union employees, hope the man the Department of Veterans Affairs named Thursday to succeed embattled regional director Michael Moreland can make changes to the Pittsburgh VA to prevent the kinds of problems that occurred in recent years.

Gary W. Devansky, 60, the medical center director of the VA's Philadelphia-area hospital in Coatesville for the past 22 years, will become acting director of the VA region that includes Pittsburgh on Nov. 2, according to an internal VA email that was sent to VA officials nationally Thursday.

"I hope he can demand responsibility," said Maureen Ciarolla, whose father, John, 83, of North Versailles, was the first victim of the Legionnaires' outbreak here when he died in July 2011. "I hope he does that with all these people [at the VA] who knew what was going on, who emailed each other about it and covered [the outbreak] up."

Ward Morrow, assistant general counsel for the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents Pittsburgh VA employees, said he knew little about Mr. Devansky.

"But I also don't know of anything that ties him directly to Moreland -- and that's a good thing," he said.

The central VA did not return emails or phone calls Thursday seeking comment about Mr. Devansky's appointment.

Mr. Devansky, who was not available for comment, will begin his new job here the day after Mr. Moreland retires.

Mr. Moreland's retirement was announced in an email to reporters three weeks ago after he had come under increasing pressure from critics both inside and outside of Congress for his role in dealing with the Legionnaires' outbreak in Pittsburgh that led to the deaths of at least six veterans in 2011 and 2012.

The email about Mr. Devansky's new appointment briefly highlights his career and uses four times as much space to list Mr. Moreland's career highlights and accomplishments.

It notes that among Mr. Moreland's accomplishments was that he won the Presidential Rank Award for meritorious achievement twice, in 2002 and 2010.

But the email makes no mention of the Presidential Rank Award for distinguished achievement -- a higher honor that came with a $63,000 bonus -- that Mr. Moreland was awarded in April, three days after a VA inspector general report blamed systemic errors at the Pittsburgh VA for allowing the Legionnaires' outbreak.

David Cowgill, a spokesman for Mr. Moreland, wrote in an email response to questions that even though the email was signed by a fellow VA regional director, Fernando Rivera, it "was prepared by a staffer in VA Central office" in Washington and that omitting the distinguished award "[m]ust have been an error."

Mr. Cowgill wrote that Mr. Moreland still has not been asked to return the award or the bonus as family or victims of the outbreak and members of Congress urged him to do.

The section of the email concerning Mr. Moreland ends with Mr. Rivera writing: "Please join me in congratulating Mike for his outstanding contributions to the Veterans Health Administration and our nation's Veterans. Mr. Moreland will be honored at the November National Leadership Council meeting."

Told this, Judy Nicklas, whose father-in-law, Robert, 87, of Hampton, died in November after contracting Legionnaires' at the Pittsburgh VA, said, "It is another slap in our face to honor this man again. Maybe the VA should consider just for one minute how they might honor the men who lost their lives due to Mr. Moreland's inability to be a leader."

Sean D. Hamill: or 412-263-2579. First Published October 24, 2013 12:31 PM

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