Congress investigating Tampa VA over covert cameras
Committee on Veterans Affairs Chairman "dumbfounded" by VA
Congressman "dumbfounded" by use of covert cameras at Tampa VA, Congress investigating. Video by fox4now.comvideo
TAMPA - Congress is investigating the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital over their use of covert cameras.
"I'm more than dumbfounded with what's been taking place at Haley," said Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), who chairs the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.
This week the Tampa VA admitted to monitoring at least 40 patients with camera and against the wishes of at least one veteran's family.
"I can promise you that there's been a very robust investigation that has been started," said Miller.
The family of Joseph Carnegie, 80, a decorated Korean War veteran who suffered brain damage at the hospital, discovered a covert camera in the room back in June.
Carnegie was admitted to the hospital last August but it wasn't until 10 months later, after the family threatened to sue the hospital, that the VA installed a camera hidden inside a smoke detector to monitor Carnegie's condition.
"It is not a hidden camera," said Dr. Edward Cutolo, the VA's chief of staff.
"Then why is it hidden inside a smoke detector?," asked Fox 4 reporter Matt Grant.
"I can't comment why that particular brand of camera was chosen," said Cutolo.
The family says it was an invasion of privacy and said the camera was installed without their permission or knowledge. The VA says they were informed and tells us at least 40 other patients are being monitored.
Cutolo says they have been using these cameras for "at least five years."
"I can't imagine why a covert camera would need to be put in place," said Miller, "in any patent's room."
Other hospitals, including Lee Memorial, use cameras to monitor patients. But a spokeswoman for Lee Memorial tells Fox 4 the cameras they use are out in the open and not hidden.
The camera in Carnegie's room has been taken down after recent media attention. The family had been complaining about the camera since June, even putting up signs saying the recordings were unauthorized and illegal
"It would have been better served to repeatedly rape us," said Carnegie's son-in-law Michael Coleman. "We would have felt better with that than what they have done with us now.
On Thursday, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla) wrote a letter to the Inspector General of the Federal Veterans Administration Department calling for an investigation into the Tampa VA's use of covert cameras saying they raise "serious questions." t
Tampa VA's response to investigation
Fox 4 wanted to know what the Tampa VA had to say about this Congressional investigation. In a one-sentence statement a spokeswoman told us: "VA has responded to questions about this issue from members of Congress."
But Rep. Miller says not so fast.
"It appears from what I've read in the media that there has been a cover up. It's not acceptable," said Miller. "Without question it sounds like somebody is not telling the truth. That's part of what we have to do as an oversight investigative committee is to find out where the truth is being told and where people are lying."
Fox 4 has talked with other soldiers who have complained about sub-standard care. Staff Sgt. Alex Dillman says catheter bags were dumped in the trash can in his room causing urine to leak on his floor.
"It's not acceptable," said Miller, "for any veteran or any active duty military person to receive sub-standard health care."
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla) declined to comment on the Tampa VA's use of covert cameras. But other lawmakers did. Below are their responses.:
- Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla) - "It goes without saying that this incident raises serious questions. Therefore, I am requesting a full investigation not only of this incident but also of whether Haley ever used hidden cameras before; and, whether any other VA facility in the country has ever used them."
- Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla) - "I am very concerned with the situation. Haley must be straightforward and honest with its patients and families. The Veterans Administration must do a better job in communicating with the public in an open and transparent way. I am working with Congressman Gus Bilirakis and Committee on Veterans' Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller on this issue and toward an investigation. I am deeply committed to maintaining a high standard of care at Haley."
- Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla) - "Keeping our promises to those who have served has been one of my top priorities. Anyone who has concerns, comments or questions are always welcome and encouraged to reach out to my office at 239-573-5837."