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story.lead_photo.caption Robert Levy talks to police in this screenshot from a police video of Levy's arrest in March 2018.

WASHINGTON -- A House Committee on Veterans' Affairs panel will hold a hearing this fall looking at VA "credentialing, privileging and reporting" practices after suspicious deaths at facilities in Arkansas and West Virginia, committee chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif., announced this week.

The date and time for the hearing still must be determined, committee officials said Tuesday.

Earlier Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., had urged the committee to open an investigation.

Robert Morris Levy, former chief of pathology and laboratory medical services at the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks in Fayetteville, faces three counts of involuntary manslaughter over the deaths of three patients.

He also faces 28 other counts of wire fraud, mail fraud and making false statements to law enforcement officials, Womack told lawmakers.

Levy is accused of showing up for work intoxicated and continuing to take intoxicating substances after completing an in-patient addiction treatment program. A federal indictment says Levy misdiagnosed patients, later falsifying two patients' medical records. Three veterans died as a result of Levy's actions, prosecutors allege.

VA officials say at least 15 veterans died after receiving botched diagnoses.

Levy has pleaded innocent; he is scheduled to go on trial beginning Sept. 8, 2020.

In addition to the Arkansas cases, the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations also will review a string of suspicious deaths at a VA facility in Clarksburg, W.Va.

Bill Powell, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia, told The Associated Press he has opened an "ongoing and comprehensive federal criminal investigation" into a number of deaths at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center, roughly 110 miles southwest of Pittsburgh.

At least two of those deaths have been classified as homicides, according to attorneys for the deceased veterans' families, the AP said.

The subcommittee also plans to look at the VA's actions at a medical center in Beckley, W.Va., where "more than a dozen" patients were allegedly sexually assaulted.

"Each of these cases point to issues within VA's hiring, credentialing, and reporting practices for clinicians that the subcommittee looks to address," committee officials said.

Womack's district includes the VA facility in Fayetteville. The 3rd District congressman from Rogers is a retired Arkansas Army National Guard colonel.

Testifying Tuesday before the Veterans' Affairs Committee, Womack said the VA's handling of the Arkansas case was puzzling.

"I will never understand why the VA returned Mr. Levy to duty as a supervisor without putting necessary safeguards in place to ensure that his work was properly reviewed.

"At the very least, an independent review process should have been set up to allow his subordinates to submit their reviews outside the usual chain of command," he said.

Emphasizing that "no medical professional, especially doctors charged with diagnosing our veterans, should ever be intoxicated while on duty," Womack said: "We as members of Congress must conduct vigorous oversight to determine how could this happen."

As he announced plans for a hearing, Takano voiced similar concerns.

"The shocking reports from West Virginia and Arkansas call into question whether VA is equipped to identify clinicians who are negligent, abusive, or commit criminal acts -- and prevent them from practicing," he said in a news release.

Information for this article was contributed by Doug Thompson of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Metro on 09/12/2019

Print Headline: Hearing set on VA's practices; deaths in Arkansas, W.Va. health centers raise concerns

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