New allegations against Tampa VA

Matt Grant

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New allegations against Tampa VA

By Matt Grant. CREATED Dec 20, 2012

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. - There are new, disturbing allegations against the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa.

Despite the Tampa VA's promise to clean up its act another soldier's family is speaking out accusing the VA of providing sub-standard care.

"I could not go home at night living with myself," said Port Charlotte resident Suzanne Wager, "if I treated my parents the way my father-in-law has been treated. I am disgusted."

Fighting back tears, Suzanne, a nursing assistant, said she is livid over how the Tampa VA is treating her father-in-law.

'Negligent care?'

"It's negligent care," she said. "That's how I feel."

Ralph Wager, 72, a retired air force mechanic was admitted after Thanksgiving suffering from a lingering spinal injury from Vietnam.

Before he was set to be released he complained of severe pain. According to Suzanne, the family begged the VA to do an MRI.

"They found a ruptured abdominal aneurysm," she said. "He was rushed to surgery."

 After surgery, she says Wager was only removed from his bed once in three weeks for a shower.

"He basically got weaker and weaker," she said, saying he wasn't properly monitored. "He was just laying in that bed."

But it didn't stop there.

According to Suzanne, her mother-in-law found Wager covered in his own urine and feces twice.

"He was soaked from head to toe," said Suzanne.

She says the VA staff told her they didn't notice because they were "busy" and "understaffed." She says a nurse who saw what happened did nothing to help.

"She did not offer to help," said Suzanne. "She left the room."

Her mother-in-law had to clean up and change the bedding by herself both times.

The VA can't comment on these specific allegations because of patient privacy laws.

"We take patient medical concerns very seriously when they are brought to our attention," said Tampa VA medical center director Kathleen Fogarty in a statement to Fox 4. "And I can assure you we are looking into these allegations."

'When is enough, enough?'

Dan Ashby with the National Coalition for Patriots says the allegations sound all too familiar. He pulled his son, Corey Kent, out of the Tampa VA in 2010 after complaining of sub-standard care and dirty conditions.

"This is just another complaint in a long line of complaints that we've been dealing with just in the last couple months," said Ashby. "It's very disturbing."

"When are we going to say enough is enough?," he added.

Fox 4 has been investigating the Tampa VA for two years now.

  • In 2010, Cape Coral veteran Corey Kent and his step-dad Dan Ashby complained of sub-standard care and dirty conditions which the VA promised to address.
  • In March of this year, Nick Battles, a Marine, said he was receiving sub-standard care saying he had preventable infections and bed sores.
  • In July, Staff Sgt. Alex Dillman says the VA accidentally left stitches in him and threw his catheter bags in the trash leaking urine on his floor.
  • That same month, Dan Ashby documented more dirty conditions at the Tampa VA - including leaky ceilings, missing floorboards and holes in the wall. The VA corrected those issues.
  • The family of Joseph Carnegie says their father, a decorated veteran, suffered brain damage in August 2011 due to inadequate staffing and says they weren't notified until three months after. In July, they shared their story after the VA began covertly monitoring Carnegie with a camera hidden inside of a smoke detector without their knowledge or permission.
  • In August, the US House Committee on Veterans Affairs opened a Congressional investigation into the Tampa VA.

For Suzanne, she's already had enough and says it's her turn to fight for our veterans.

"They have put their life on the line," she said. "The least that can be done is people take care of them when they're in need and when they're sick."

The Tampa VA's use of covert cameras is at the center of an ongoing US Congressional investigation. A final report is expected in February, according to the Inspector General's office.

"James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital and clinic dedicated staff strive every day to provide the highest quality of care for our veterans. While we can't speak specifically about this case, we take patient medical concerns very seriously when they are brought to our attention and I can assure you we are looking into these allegations. We encourage patients or their family members to communicate directly with our clinical staff and patient advocates."

Matt Grant
mgrant@fox4now.com