U.S. House committee schedules hearing on Pittsburgh VA Legionnaires' outbreak

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The U.S. House Committee on Veterans' Affairs will hold a hearing next month into the Legionnaires' disease outbreak at the Pittsburgh VA that may have killed as many as three veterans, the committee announced today.

The Feb. 5 hearing in Washington, D.C., of the committee's Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will include testimony from someone at the Pittsburgh VA who is "most knowledgeable and able to answer questions," said U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, who is not on the subcommittee but requested the hearing along with U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair.

Mr. Doyle said subcommittee staff told him the hearing may also include testimony from vendors called in to help the Pittsburgh VA with the outbreak over the last year as well as Victor Yu and Janet Stout, former Pittsburgh VA researchers who have blamed VA officials for their handling of the outbreak.

Mr. Murphy said he also hopes to hear at the hearing from officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- which assisted the Pittsburgh VA in analyzing the outbreak -- as well as "objective" researchers.

The official witness list was not yet available, but Mr. Doyle, who hopes to be able to attend the hearing to listen, said: "As they say, a hearing is only as good as your witnesses and the questions asked."

With the VA's inspector general also conducting an investigation into the outbreak that is due to be completed in March, Mr. Doyle said, "By March or April we should have a pretty good idea of what the VA did or didn't do in this case."

Mr. Doyle and Mr. Murphy requested the hearing last month from both the VA Committee chairman, U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and minority chairman Michael Michaud, D-Maine.

"They told me they'd try to get oversight and investigations to move pretty quickly, but we were surprised how fast they've gotten it scheduled," Mr. Doyle said.

Mr. Murphy said he hopes the hearing will help to answer questions such as: What are the proper procedures for water purification systems and were they followed at the VA? And do the standards for safe levels of Legionella, the bacterium that causes Legionnaires, present in the water system need to be changed?

"There are serious questions out there and they need to be answered," said Mr. Murphy, who said he also hopes to attend the hearing.

Mr. Michaud said in statement: "We owe it to these veterans and their families to get to the bottom of what happened. Our committee is committed to getting answers and exploring what steps need to be taken moving forward. Our ultimate goal must be safeguarding the health and safety of our veterans so that something like this doesn't happen again."

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., who requested the VA inspector general's investigation, said in a statement that he was "pleased that the House is set to hold a hearing on the Legionnaires' outbreak at the Pittsburgh VA."

"I urged the VA's Inspector General to conduct an investigation into the situation because it's critical that those responsible are held accountable," he said. "I'm hopeful that this hearing will shed more light on what occurred and what can be done to prevent an outbreak of legionnaires' from occurring ever again."

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


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