PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs has assured Sen. Bob Casey that he’s on top of the outbreak of Legionnaires Disease at the VA hospitals in Pittsburgh.
“I have no doubt that he’s committed, and I have no reason to doubt the commitment he brings to this,” Casey told KDKA’s Jon Delano.
Casey said he spoke directly to Secretary Eric Shinseki and followed up with a letter with 12 specific questions about what the VA knew and did for the safety of both VA employees and those who use the facilities in Oakland and Aspinwall.
“They need to communicate directly with veterans and their families about what they’re doing, so I’m not satisfied yet with the level and quality of communications,” added Casey.
Legionella, the bacteria that causes the disease, can lead to death, and has been found in the water system at the VA’s Heinz campus in Aspinwall. The VA has stopped using that water, pending tests, but is still operating.
Navy veteran Scott Trisler of Eighty-Four says he’s having dental work there.
“I’m getting dental work done. They’re using potable water, bottled water to rinse your mouth and stuff like that. I think they’re honest and sincere. I’m a little concerned about the disease itself,” said Trisler.
No surprise there — perhaps three veterans have died from Legionnaires Disease allegedly contracted at local VA facilities.
“It’s a challenge we face as people to deal with this stuff, but it won’t keep me from coming here, and I don’t think it will keep any of these veterans,” added Tom Immekus of Penn Hills, himself a veteran.
But Casey said he’s not happy with the VA’s lack of public communication on Legionnaires Disease in Pittsburgh — and he told Secretary Shinseki that.
“I asked him to have the VA communicate much better, not only with an office like ours but also with the people in the region,” he said.
And he wants his questions answered.
“This is going to be a process where we got to continue to probe to get those answers, and the VA needs to communicate that to veterans and their families and the community,” he added.
Veterans are cautious.
“No, no. I’m not going to drink the water, not until the problem is under control,” said Ed Emmett of Shaler.
Casey said veterans should note their concerns about Legionnaires directly to doctors.
“They should ask that question directly,” added Sen. Casey.