INDIANAPOLIS (Feb. 23, 2016) – Indiana lawmakers are raising new questions about why a Veterans Affairs regional director, in the middle of an investigation in Cincinnati, is still overseeing facilities in Indiana.
“I want to address the very serious allegations,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said during a Senate Veterans Affairs committee hearing Tuesday.
VA Secretary Robert McDonald addressed the two VA investigations during testimony on Capitol Hill, unveiling the department’s 2017 budget proposal.
“The investigation’s ongoing,” McDonald said. “We need to dig into this and find out whether or not these allegations are supported and then take action as quickly as possible.”
The federal probe is looking into accusations of misconduct and improper prescribing practices at the VA Medical Center in Cincinnati, which CBS4 has uncovered has a direct impact to veterans in Indiana.
“This is a very big deal,” Rep. Luke Messer (R-Ind.) said in an interview Tuesday.
VA officials were quick to note they’ve removed regional director Jack Hetrick from overseeing the Cincinnati facility during the investigation “to make sure there was no ability to influence or keep people from raising issues.”
But Hetrick is still in charge of overseeing the care of hundreds-of-thousands of veterans in Indiana, alongside Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio. The new region is part of a consolidation effort by the VA.
“I think this is the beginning of a process frankly,” Messer said. “Overtime the VA has lost a lot of trust.”
Messer was briefed by VA officials regarding the investigation Monday, and said he continues to be concerned by the accusations and Hetrick’s oversight in Indiana during the investigation.
“Of course I’m concerned the person overseeing the Cincinnati facility also has oversight responsibilities here in Indiana,” he said. “We need to get to the bottom of these allegations quickly.”
Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) who talked with McDonald Monday night released this statement:
“The allegations regarding the Cincinnati VA are very concerning, and we still don’t have all the facts. I spoke with VA Secretary Bob McDonald last night about the ongoing investigations, and I will continue to monitor their progress. It is also absolutely critical that we ensure our veterans in Indiana and across the country have access to timely and quality care, whether through VA medical centers or community providers. They deserve nothing less than the best possible care.”
“We need to make sure anybody involved in misconduct is held accountable,” Messer said.
On Monday Derek Atkinson, acting public affairs officer for Hetrick’s region, said they cannot comment on the ongoing investigation, but added in a statement, “Hoosier Veterans can be confident that they will receive high-quality health care from Indiana facilities.”