On September 30, 2016, a stunning report revealed that two veterans were left to decompose for weeks in a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) morgue located at the Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital in Hines, Illinois.
This particular hospital had already been under fire for “excessive wait times, festering black mold and kitchen cockroaches”. Then a whistleblower reported “bodies of dead patients left unclaimed in the morgue for up to two months without proper burial…where families have not come forward to claim the body.”
The un-named whistleblower complained to Michael J. Missal, Inspector General of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that Christopher Wirtjes, “the Chief of Patient Administrative Services, has the funds available, yet has no sense of urgency to lay the veteran to rest.”
Putting things into perspective, Cook County, Illinois, policy “suggests” that bodies should be embalmed within three days of death, placed into a freezer, while attempts are made to find relatives of the deceased. If none are found, the remains would be buried in a nearby national cemetery within 6o days.
Obviously, this didn’t happen thereby obviating the report.
The whistleblower’s complaint had also been reported to Illinois Senator Mark Kirk, who was also incensed with the news. He told CBS,
“The VA should be sickened and embarrassed by yet another exposed case of corruption and mistreatment of our veterans at Hines. I have personally called Secretary McDonald and asked him to fire Christopher Wirtjes, the Chief responsible for this shameful treatment of our veterans’ remains. Bureaucrats at Hines should spend as much time helping veterans as they do covering up neglect and abuse.”
Needless to say, spokesman Rick Fox defended the hospital:
“We take whistleblower allegations very seriously and absolutely agree that all of our veterans deserve dignity and respect, in life and in death. While our investigation into this matter is still ongoing, we have found allegations related to consistent problems with dignified and timely burials to be unsubstantiated. However, we have taken this opportunity to review our policies and procedures and are currently working to improve them.
“However, we have taken this opportunity to review our policies and procedures and are currently working to improve them.”
In the hospital’s report responding to the complaint:
“Staff at Hines VA Hospital conducted a fact-finding investigation that shows over the last two years, the vast majority – more than 95 percent – of Veterans’ remains are being respectfully handled within seven days, and more than 99 percent within 30 days. Additionally, VA’s Office of Medical Inspector (OMI) spent significant time at the facility last week interviewing employees and reviewing related materials. And while we are awaiting OMI’s final report, we remain confident that our Veterans have been receiving dignified and timely burials.”
There two obvious questions: “Why not 100%? Don’t our veterans deserve the ultimate respect after their deaths?”