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After dead veteran scandal, someone needs to say ‘you’re fired’ at Bay Pines VA

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

I was about to muse aloud why someone hasn’t been fired yet from the Bay Pines Veterans Affairs Health Care System when this statement came in from U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, who represents the district where the facility is located.

“Unsurprisingly, not a single VA employee has been fired following this incident, despite a clear lack of concern and respect for the Veteran. The men and women who sacrificed on behalf of our nation deserve better.”

Yep. Unsurprising.

That is the sad truth in the aftermath of the shocking report late last week that instead of transporting a deceased veteran from the hospice wing at the facility to the morgue, he was left unattended for nine hours, first in the hallway and then in the shower room.

That was bad enough.

But then, as a 24-page report first revealed by the Tampa Bay Times details, there was an attempt to cover up that incident from February before anyone found out. I can only imagine how that went down.

“Uh, what’s this body doing here?”

“I don’t know. Think we should tell someone?”

“Are you kidding? People don’t need to know this. We’ll just tidy things up and pretend this never happened. Let’s get some lunch and figure out a plan.”

That plan, according to the report, included falsifying records. That should be a firing offense right there.

Following this to its logical conclusion, though, it appears that covering your backside, in this case, was a lot more important than doing things right and treating a deceased veteran with the respect he deserved and promised as a quid pro quo for the service he gave to his country.

And hasn’t that been a problem in the VA for a long, long time now?

As Bilirakis says, “The report details a total failure on the part of the Department of Veterans Affairs and an urgent need for greater accountability.”

That “total failure” included numerous breakdowns in procedures for dealing with deceased veterans. There can be no excuse.

Bay Pines is far from the only Veterans Affairs facility to come under fire, and it appears to be a systemwide problem. Issues with the giant agency will be a stain on the legacy of President Obama as he prepares to leave office next month.

For now, as far as we know, no one lost their job at Bay Pines over this, even though it happened about 10 months ago. There apparently was a lot of finger-pointing, according to the report, and attempts to deflect blame, but somebody screwed up big time and needs to pay the price.

A spokesman for Bay Pines told the Times that, “We feel that we have taken strong, appropriate and expeditious steps to strengthen and improve our existing systems and processes within the unit.”

That’s a good thing.

This is one time, though, where it would be smart to borrow a line from incoming President Donald Trump. Whoever is responsible needs to hear those magic words: You’re fired.

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Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also including hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. Henderson was also City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. He served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and has two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.

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