Harm to veterans: It takes Congress to probe the Pittsburgh VA

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Damning evidence about how the Pittsburgh VA Healthcare System handled a recent outbreak of Legionnaires' disease just keeps coming.

The latest revelations came during a U.S. House subcommittee hearing Tuesday, where a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was released showing that as many as five people died after contracting the illness at a VA center in Oakland since 2011. That's four more than authorities had previously acknowledged, and it wasn't the only shocking detail.

The CDC report said the hospital's laboratory sometimes took as long as two days to tell its infection prevention team about a positive finding for the Legionella bacteria and the team typically didn't advise physicians, even though quick treatment is critical when a person has been infected.

The owner of a firm that sold the Pittsburgh VA its water treatment systems, designed to control the water-borne illness, said his workers saw VA employees falsifying reports on the system's test results and had been told it wasn't properly maintained because a worker was on disability leave.

Rep. Mike Coffman, the Colorado Republican who chairs the House Veterans Affairs subcommittee on oversight, accused VA officials of engaging in a cover-up to hide the scope of the outbreak. He and others were frustrated by VA officials' reluctance to provide answers and by the fact that no Pittsburgh officials were present.

Too often the public has witnessed congressional hearings that were nothing more than stages for political grandstanding. By contrast, Tuesday's session affirmed the important role that elected representatives must exercise when administrators and bureaucrats fail to perform appropriately and in the best interest of the public.

In this case, the work of congressional overseers is far from over.

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