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Officials at troubled VA hospitals received big bonuses

Congress to review questionable bonuses for VA hospital officials 03:21

(CBS News) NEW YORK -- In January, a CBS News investigation found that a veterans' hospital in Pittsburgh knew for more than a year that it had an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease, but kept it secret until five patients died and 21 others became ill.

Navy veteran William Nicklas
Navy veteran William Nicklas CBS News

Last fall, Dave and Bob Nicklas spoke to CBS News after losing their 87-year-old father to Legionnaires' disease. William Nicklas, a Navy veteran, caught the deadly pneumonia at the Pittsburgh VA.

Bob wanted accountability.

"It was a preventable situation," he said. "And the VA chose not to do anything about it. And if something was done, my dad would be alive today."

After the CBS News investigation, the VA's inspector general found the Pittsburgh VA failed to prevent the outbreak.

CDC report reveals breakdowns in handling of deadly outbreak at VA hospital

The man who oversees that hospital is Regional Director Michael Moreland. Just days after that finding, the department gave him a $62,895 service award for saving the government money on a hospital construction project, and for starting a new infection prevention program.

John Ciarolla
John Ciarolla CBS News

"I hope that award, that has blood all over it, the deaths of five veterans, I hope that he sleeps well at night," said Maureen Ciarolla, who lost her 83-year-old father, Navy veteran John Ciarolla to the outbreak.

"He never came off the ventilator," she said. "He never recovered from that."

Last year, Veterans Affairs gave out nearly $97 million in bonuses. Now, Congress plans to review the bonuses given to VA officials who oversaw hospitals that had problems with patient care. For example, according to the Inspector General:

  • The Buffalo VA exposed over 700 patients to hepatitis over a two-year period -- by reusing insulin pens. CBS News has learned that during that time, Upstate New York Regional director David West was awarded nearly $26,000 in bonuses.
  • Failure to monitor mental health patients at the Atlanta VA led to three deaths. CBS News found its former director James Clark received over $31,000 in bonuses the years two of those patients died.
  • Records show hospital director Terry Gerigk Wolf got a $13,000 bonus the year the Pittsburgh VA failed to prevent, then mismanaged the Legionnaires' outbreak.

Watch: VA hospital knew of Legionella problem before patient's death, below.

The Nicklas brothers, and Maureen Ciarolla are suing the VA for the deaths of their fathers in the outbreak.

"It's a slap in the face to every veteran and their families," Ciarolla said.

In a statement, the VA said it "takes seriously any issue that occurs at one of our 1,700 facilities," and that veterans are being well served by a caring and effective workforce. The VA told us Michael Mooreland's $63,000 award is under review. CBS News contacted the officials for their reaction. We never heard back from one, another declined comment and the other two referred CBS News to the VA.

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