VA leader praised despite Legionnaires' outbreak

It also noted: "Under Mr. Moreland's leadership, [his region] VISN 4 obtained exceptional results by meeting or exceeding all clinical and organizational performance measures during Fiscal Year 2011."

That fiscal year, which ended in September 2011, includes the beginning of the outbreak of Legionnaires' disease at the Pittsburgh VA, which started in February 2011 and continued until November 2012. It killed at least five veterans and sickened another 17.

On Thursday, several family and friends of the victims expressed dismay when they heard for the first time that Mr. Moreland's nomination made it appear that everything was fine at the VA in fiscal year 2011.

"Oh, that's terrible," said Mary Ellen McWhinney, the longtime girlfriend of Lloyd "Mitch" Wanstreet, 65, a Navy veteran who died July 4, 2012, after contracting Legionnaires' during a stay at the Pittsburgh VA. "Because you know it started in 2011, and it probably started somewhere before that."

By the end of fiscal year 2011, the first victim, John Ciarolla, 83, had died, two others had gotten sick, and Mr. Moreland had received the first Issue Brief -- a memo on important matters -- put out by Pittsburgh VA Director Terry Wolf.

The July 5, 2011, memo talked about Mr. Ciarolla's illness and what the Pittsburgh VA was doing to try to identify the presence of the water-borne disease in the VA's buildings.

"So what did he do in 2011?" asked Ciarolla's daughter, Maureen. "Did he just ignore the issues memo that they had a Legionella problem? The whole thing doesn't make any sense. It's nothing but a cover-up."

Mr. Moreland and the VA fielded criticism last month after the Post-Gazette reported that he accepted the Presidential Rank Award and the $63,000 bonus that went with it at a black tie dinner April 26 in Washington, D.C. That was just three days after the VA's inspector general issued a review that found systemic failures at the Pittsburgh VA led to the Legionnaires' outbreak.

In response last month, the VA began a review of Mr. Moreland's nomination for the award. On Thursday, the VA said the review is "ongoing" and it "will take any appropriate action when that review is complete."

The Presidential Distinguished Rank Award is the government's top civil service award for senior level executives and is awarded to up to 1 percent of eligible staff. Out of 7,000 senior executives, 54 won it this past year.

It is not clear who prepared the nomination form. The name of the VA employee who is assigned to be the agency's Presidential Rank Awards program coordinator is redacted on the form.

Mr. Moreland's immediate supervisor, William Schoenhard, deputy under secretary for health, signed the form. He could not be reached Thursday.

VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki's name is typed in as "Nominating Agency Official," but his signature space is blank.

Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, said in a statement: "After reading the forms, I have no better understanding as to why Mr. Moreland was nominated for the Presidential Rank Award or why he was given a $63,000 bonus ... [and] we still don't know if the bonus was advanced by senior VA leadership before, during or after first reports of the Legionnaires' outbreak at the Pittsburgh VA hospital, which is why we will keep pursuing this further."

Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, upset when he learned of Mr. Moreland's bonus last month, was outraged upon reading the nomination details.

"Michael Moreland's bonus is a slap in the face to the families of the veterans who died as a result of the tragic Pittsburgh VA Legionnaires' disease outbreak," Mr. Miller said in a statement. "If VA doesn't take the common-sense step of recouping this outrageous payment, Moreland, himself, should do right by the families of those who died and give the money back. Until then, all of us will be left wondering when VA leaders will realize that rewarding failure only breeds more failure."

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