What to Know
A relative of the veteran said she reported the man missing when he didn't return from an appointment at the medical center May 15.
The veteran’s sister said she searched the parking lot herself after the VA medical center failed multiple requests to find the man.
The U.S. House Committee on Veterans Affairs, which oversees the agency and its D.C. medical center, said it is also investigating.
The Metropolitan Police Department, the D.C. medical examiner and top officials with the Washington DC VA Medical Center are investigating the discovery of the body of a military veteran in a car outside the medical center in May.
The News4 I-Team learned the agency is being questioned for a delay in finding the man’s body, despite multiple requests from his family to look for him.
A relative of the veteran said she reported the man missing when he didn't return from an appointment at the medical center May 15. She said the man’s body wasn’t found until the early morning hours of May 17 and was only discovered by the man’s sister. The veteran’s sister said she searched the parking lot herself after the VA medical center failed to find him, after multiple requests.
A police report obtained by the I-Team said the veteran was found “slumped over” and unconscious in a vehicle at the medical center’s parking lot. The large DC VA Medical Center, which sits along Irving Street near North Capitol Street in Northwest, has a large, open-air parking lot near its main entrance.
“We’re investigating the time lag,” acting medical center Director Larry Connell said.
The medical examiner is still determining the cause of death, Connell said.
“I met with the veteran’s sister that evening and expressed our condolences," Connell said.
The U.S. House Committee on Veterans Affairs, which oversees the agency and its D.C. medical center, said it is also investigating the incident.
“First and foremost, my thoughts and prayers go out to this family," committee Chairman Dr. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) said. "I am absolutely outraged that a veteran who served our nation died alone, in his car, outside the DC VA Medical Center. This is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated, and it’s certainly no way to treat the men and women who have served.”
The committee asked the inspector general to investigate this incident.
“Our hearts are with the family members of this veteran," ranking member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) said in a statement. "We are saddened by the manner in which he passed away and we are sickened to know that, despite being contacted by family members, the Washington, D.C. VA did not do enough to locate this veteran and inform his family.
"We have requested the VA Office of Inspector General investigate this matter and our vigilant oversight of this facility and all facilities will continue to ensure all veterans are treated with the dignity they have earned and deserve.”
The medical center was already under scrutiny because of a scathing report released by internal investigators with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General. The report said federal inspectors found the medical center suffered shortages of key supplies, some of which forced procedures to be delayed and required medical staff to borrow supplies, including bloodlines and surgical pieces, to treat patients.
The inspector general report also accused the medical center of allowing dirty conditions inside 18 sterile storage areas. The report said internal investigators found expired medical equipment on site, including some used during a June 2016 patient procedure.
“(Investigators) identified a number of serious and troubling deficiencies at the Medical Center that place patients at unnecessary risk,” the report said.
Hours after the release of the report, the agency announced it would reassign longtime medical center Director Bryan Hawkins. The agency announced Connell would serve as acting director.
Connell told the I-Team a large share of the problems have already been addressed.
“I'll admit, when I first got here, this facility was not up to my standards,” Connell said.
“We’re not 100 percent yet, but we are way better today with logistics and medical supplies for this facility,” he said.
In a formal statement, the agency said, “Processes are now in place to ensure that providers have the appropriate supplies they need to treat our patients safely and effectively. All equipment and supplies that were subject to recall in the past 12 months have been removed from stock. This was completed approximately two weeks ago. The facility is now in normal maintenance mode to scan for equipment subject to recall.”
The inspector general review of the medical center complex is not yet complete. The report released in April was an “interim” report, alerting officials about preliminary findings in a longer review. Further reports from the inspector general are expected.