Feds Open Investigation of State Veterans Homes - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

NC5 Investigates: Veterans Home

Feds Open Investigation of State Veterans Homes

David Lawson, deceased veteran David Lawson, deceased veteran
John Furgess, VFW John Furgess, VFW
(Story created: 2/23/07)

There are new troubles for the Tennessee State Veterans Homes. 

The state-run nursing homes for veterans are now coming under more scrutiny -- this time from the federal government.

NewsChannel 5 has learned that the U.S. Department of Justice has just launched a formal investigation.

It follows a NewsChannel 5 investigation into patient neglect at the facilities.

Consumer investigator Jennifer Kraus obtained exclusive details of what federal investigators now want to know.

The Justice Department sent the letter to Gov. Phil Bredesen, informing him that its civil rights division has just opened an investigation into the Tennessee State Veterans Homes.

According to the letter, federal investigators want to know more about the conditions, care and treatment of veterans at two of the state-run nursing homes.

"The fact that they're stepping in and making sure they are going to change is just fantastic," says Karla Lawson.

Lawson's father, Dave, lived at the state veterans home in Murfreesboro until his death last summer.

He suffered from extreme bed sores and what his family felt was neglect.

The Murfreesboro facility and the one in Humboldt have both been sanctioned by state regulators for problems with patient care.

"I'm excited that the vets are not being forgotten," Lawson says.

And veterans groups welcome the federal investigation.

"We not only want them, we demand answers and that's what investigations like this from time to time prove -- where the problems are in the system and how they can be corrected," says the VFW's John Furgess.

State Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, welcomes the scrutiny.

Norris has been a vocal critic of the state veterans' nursing system since our investigation first exposed problems with patient care and neglect last summer.

"Where there's smoke there's fire," Norris says, "and you know if they look into it and find all is well, then we'll all feel better about that.

"Conversely, if they look into it and find there are problems, maybe we'll get them resolved once and for all."

Karla Lawson says her father complained for years about the treatment that he and other vets were getting at the Murfreesboro facility -- complaints she says that fell on deaf ears until now.

"His suffering wasn't in vain," she says, "and it's bringing change for other people and you couldn't ask for anything more than that."

The letter from the Justice Department to the governor does not give a timetable as to how long the investigation might take.

But it says if federal investigators do find any violations, they'll insist that the state fix the problems as soon as possible.

The feds could get a lot tougher if the state doesn't do everything that the Justice Department thinks is needed.

In that case, the letter says the Justice Department could then take the state to court.  (For more information, see the Justice Department's "Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons" page.)

Gov. Bredesen recently made his own call for an independent investigation of the veterans homes.

His office says he's ordered state officials to fully cooperate with the investigation.

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