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Congressman wants law change after veteran covertly monitored at Tampa VA

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Congressman wants law change after veteran covertly monitored at Tampa VA

By Matt Grant. CREATED Apr 16, 2013

CAPE CORAL - A Florida congressman has introduced a law that would protect veterans from being secretly recorded at VA hospitals.

Last year, a Fox 4 investigation found the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa had been using a camera hidden inside a smoke detector to secretly monitor a brain damaged patient without the family's knowledge or consent.

When Mike Coleman and his wife, Natalie Carnegie, first turned to us for help last summer they had just found out the Tampa VA was secretly monitoring Carnegie's 80-year-old father who was a Korean War veteran.

They felt violated.

"It would have been better served if they repeatedly raped us," said Coleman. "We would have been better off with that than what they have done with us now."

It was inside a white smoke detector that the Tampa VA installed a covert camera. Carnegie says she was tipped off by a maintenance worker. Last August, the VA admitted installing the camera but refused to call it "hidden."

"It is not a hidden camera," a Tampa VA director told us, saying he couldn't comment on why that brand of camera was chosen.

But a recent report by the VA Inspector General found it was a hidden camera, citing a director who wrote in an email: "Is it possible for a hidden camera to be placed in the room?" and later writing: "We don't want the family to know that they are being videotaped."

"I really can't believe that it is legal to install a covert camera in anybody's hospital room," said Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), "without somebody being notified within a family."

Speaking from his Capitol Hill office, Miller, who is Chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, said he was not satisfied with the IG report and felt the Tampa VA had not been truthful.

"I got no good solid information and that's what really caused me the most grief," said Miller.

The IG report found the covert camera was a "reasonable" way to see if the Carnegie was tampering with her father's patient care - a charge that has the family livid.

"It's like spitting in his face and spitting in our faces," said Coleman. "Over and over again."

That's why Rep. Miller has introduced the Veterans Privacy Act. It would require the VA obtain consent from the family or the courts before a covert camera could be installed.

"Just like a police officer would have to do to do some type of surveillance," said Miller.

Miller called the use of covert cameras "bizarre...outrageous" and a "big brother" tactic, which he says violates patient trust.

"I just don't think it should be legal," he said.

The VA Inspector General has recommended the VA create a policy addressing the use of covert style surveillance cameras that would require consent and approval before they can be installed.

Rep. Miller statement

“This type of behavior is as bizarre as it is outrageous. To think that some VA employees actually thought it a good idea to covertly record a patient with a video camera disguised as a smoke detector really just boggles the mind. What’s worse is that when we questioned VA regarding the legality of these actions, department officials contended they had done nothing wrong. The Veterans Privacy Act will keep covert, Big Brother tactics out of VA medical centers and protect the sacred trust that should exist between VA and veteran patients and their families."

Matt Grant
mgrant@fox4now.com

Follow me on Twitter @MattGrantFox4