CINCINNATI, Ohio (Feb. 22, 2016) – Reports of misconduct inside the VA Medical Center in Cincinnati have prompted The Department of Veterans Affairs to open two federal investigations, addressing allegations of cost-cutting affecting quality of care and claims that drugs were improperly prescribed.
“VA takes all allegations of conduct that negatively affects the care of Veterans, or that is against our values very seriously,” James Hutton said in a statement to CBS4, director of media relations for the VA.
Tied into the investigation is VA regional director Jack Hetrick, who now oversees VA facilities in Indiana, including Fort Wayne, Marion, and Indianapolis, as part of a nationwide consolidation effort.
As of October, according to the VA, Hetrick oversees the care of 500,000 veterans throughout the lower peninsula of Michigan, Ohio, Northern Kentucky and Indiana.
But in light of the federal investigations launched earlier this month, Hetrick’s oversight authorities have been removed in Cincinnati.
VA officials said the move was to “ensure no conflict of interest during the investigation.”
An investigation by WCPO-TV in Cincinnati reports investigators are looking into Cincinnati’s Chief of Staff, Dr. Barbara Temeck, and accusations she prescribed highly-addictive pain medication to the wife of Hetrick.
Indiana lawmakers say those accusations raises numerous red flags and questions.
“To find out we have another issue in another state and it still implicates Indiana, because I think the allegations around this guy are very concerning,” Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) said in an interview with CBS4. “And I think before he’s allowed to oversee another facility especially in Indiana, I think there needs to be a full investigation into his conduct.”
Walorski, who sits on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, calls the accusations appalling, especially given the fact the DEA is inspecting the VA hospital in Marion for potentially over-prescribing practices.
Walorski has introduced legislation to hold VA facilities accountable nationwide.
“I think it’s ironic that they’ve removed somebody from one area but allow their authority to go into another state,” she said. “Especially when it comes to the fact the VA facility he’s going to be going to is under the investigation from the DEA for their drug practices.”
VA officials wouldn't disclose the scope of the investigation in Cincinnati, but said, “we will investigate these allegations, and if substantiated, hold anyone accountable as appropriate based on facts and evidence.”
Indiana lawmakers say they want answers now.
In a statement, Sen. Dan Coats' office (R-Ind.) said:
“Veterans should not face uncertainty about receiving the best care possible. Senator Coats is extremely concerned about recent reports regarding the VA Medical Center in Cincinnati. The Senator supports a full and thorough investigation into this situation.”
“So far, the VA has been very cryptic and given my office few details about what’s going on,” Rep. Luke Messer (R-Ind.) also said in a statement. “Our veterans deserve better. They deserve an honest assessment of exactly what’s happening at the Cincinnati VA, and anyone involved in misconduct must be held accountable.”
Hetrick didn't respond to a request for comment.
But Derek Atkinson, acting public affairs officer for Hetrick's region, said they cannot comment on the ongoing investigation, but added, "Hoosier Veterans can be confident that they will receive high-quality health care from Indiana facilities."