The Department of Veterans Affairs has disciplined nine employees, including a regional director and a chief medical officer, after a Vietnam War veteran was reportedly found covered in ants and ant bites at a Georgia nursing home earlier this month.
Air Force veteran Joel Marrable had more than 100 ant bites when his daughter, Laquna Ross, visited him at the Eagles’ Nest Community Living Center in Decatur. Marrable was battling cancer and died after being bitten twice, his daughter said.
“What happened at Eagles’ Nest was unacceptable, and we want to ensure that veterans and families know we are determined to restore their trust in the facility. Transparency and accountability are key principles at VA, and they will guide our efforts in this regard,” Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Executive in Charge Dr. Richard Stone said in a statement.
According to the VA, the Veterans Integrated Service Network 7 (VISN 7) director was placed on immediate administrative leave, and Scott Isaacks will serve as acting director. VISN 7 is the southeast VA network and oversees eight facilities across Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.
The VISN 7 chief medical officer was moved to administrative duties outside the network, and seven of the Atlanta VA Medical Center staff members were transferred into nonpatient-care positions while an investigation takes place, the VA said.
The department also plans to “realign” its Office of Network Support, a move it says “will streamline [the] VA’s adverse action reporting processes by ensuring issues are quickly reported from local and regional officials to VHA leaders.”
All personnel will be retrained in how to report urgent issues through the proper chain of the command, the VA added.
The ant infestation enraged lawmakers, who called for VA accountability.
“I am shocked, horrified and downright maddened by the news that a veteran under the care of the VA was treated so poorly and without any regard for his wellbeing,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
“This patient, at the end of his life, was clearly not being monitored closely enough, and I am so sad for his family who had to discover his insect-infested conditions before anything was reportedly done.”
He added, “I’ve also spoken with the veteran’s daughter and offered to help in any way I can to ensure that her family is taken care of and that those who allowed these conditions to persist to be held accountable to the fullest extent.”
Marrable’s daughter said that she found ants all over the room; her father’s hands were covered in bites and he had red bumps all over.
The room was cleaned and her father bathed, but Ross came back the next day to find more ants. Marrable was moved to a different room, where he later died.
“He served his country in the Air Force, and I think that he deserved better,” Ross said.