It has only been a couple of years since whistleblowers at Veterans Affairs hospitals broke the news that staff was falsifying appointment records to make it appear patients were seen within the 14-day target window. In reality, some veterans were waiting weeks for appointments. Investigators found that a number of veterans had died while waiting for care in the Phoenix VA system. Now a whistleblower at the Hines VA Hospital says the unclaimed bodies of veterans were left for weeks as they decomposed before they were buried.
The Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital outside of Chicago is one of the largest VA hospitals in the Midwest. It operates almost 500 beds and serves more than 50,000 veterans. According to local news, internal emails reported at least two unclaimed veterans were left inside the Hines facility morgue during the summer. The bodies sat for at least 4 weeks and during that time the bodies were allowed to badly decompose.
U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk has made a complaint to Robert A. McDonald, the current VA Secretary. “I have personally called Secretary McDonald and asked him to fire Christopher Wirtjes, the Chief responsible for this shameful treatment of our veterans' remains,” said Kirk. “Bureaucrats at Hines should spend as much time helping veterans as they do covering up neglect and abuse.”
In an interview with FoxNews, Kirk said the hospital “has reached a new low in the treatment of our veterans. We now have reports of bodies being left to decompose in the morgue for months on end.”
The unnamed whistleblower has also singled out Wirtjes, chief of Patient Administrative Services (PAS). “The Chief of PAS has the funds available, yet has no sense of urgency to lay the veteran to rest,” said the whistleblower.
According to a spokesperson with the VA, they are investigating the situation, but say leaving unclaimed veterans appears to be an isolated event. “We take whistleblower allegations very seriously and absolutely agree that all of our veterans deserve dignity and respect, in life and in death,” said the spokesperson.
“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.”
Under the Illinois Whistleblower Act, employees are protected when disclosing certain information to government or law enforcement agencies. This includes disclosure of information that an employee has reasonable cause to believes to be a violation of a state or federal rule, law or regulation. An employer may not retaliate against an employee who participates in an investigation with law enforcement, government agencies, or other proceedings.
If you have been retaliated against for speaking out against wrongdoing at your place of work, you may be protected by Illinois whistleblower laws. You should speak with an experienced attorney who understands that you cannot be retaliated against for doing the right thing. At Benassi & Benassi, we are committed to getting our clients the justice they deserve and equal treatment under the law.