Another black mark for the Veterans Administration.
An Illinois Veterans Affairs hospital already under fire for excessive wait times, festering black mold and kitchen cockroaches faces a new shame – the bodies of dead patients left unclaimed in the morgue for up to two months without proper burial, whistleblower documents allege.
The whistleblower, whose identity is not being revealed for fear of retaliation, complained last month to the VA’s inspector general about the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital’s handling of veterans’ remains in cases where families have not come forward to claim the body. The complaint singled out Christopher Wirtjes, chief of Patient Administrative Services, saying “The Chief of PAS has the funds available, yet has no sense of urgency to lay the veteran to rest.”
Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., whose office also received the complaint along with emails, is now calling for Wirtjes’ firing and in a statement, slammed the hospital – located in the Western suburbs of Chicago — over its recent history of controversies.
“Hines VA — the hospital that has been overrun with cockroaches and mold and left vets waiting for care for months on secret wait lists, has reached a new low in the treatment of our veterans,” Kirk told FoxNews.com. “We now have reports of bodies being left to decompose in the morgue for months on end.”
The whistleblower, who has spoken with Kirk’s office, described a “horrible issue” at the hospital in the letter to the IG: “Some veteran’s remains have been left in our hospital morgue for 45 days or more until they are stacked to capacity at times.”
On at least one occasion, a body had liquefied and the bag burst when staff had attempted to move it, said Alissa McCurley, Kirk’s deputy chief of staff.
Kirk talked to VA Secretary Bob McDonald last week in Washington and demanded the firing of Wirtjes, whom the Office of Special Counsel determined had orchestrated a secret wait list that was exposed by another whistleblower in 2014. McDonald was noncommittal, Kirk said.
Internal VA emails chronicle how a frustrated Hines clerk attempted to obtain permission from Wirtjes for burial of unclaimed veterans on three occasions.
The first email chain began on Dec. 7, 2015.
“[There is] an invoice for an unclaimed veteran that has been here for over 30 days. Please approve for burial at Abraham Lincoln,” the clerk wrote to Wirtjes and several others.
Three days later, the clerk wrote again: “Approval of unclaimed Vet D?? Status?”
On Dec. 23, the clerk wrote to human resources: “Any further on my poor unclaimed? I WILL file a police report, but I hate doing that…”
Emails from June 14, 2016 and Aug. 29, 2016 state that two different veterans languished in the morgue for a month or more.