Tuesday, September 6 2011 8:40 PM EDT2011-09-07 00:40:02 GMT
The U.S. Department of Justice launched an investigation of the Tennessee State Veterans Home and found the state had failed to properly care for the veterans at the home and even contributed to some of their deaths.more>>
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FIRST ON 5: The director of Tennessee's two nursing homes for veterans has been forced to resign. This comes after inspectors found critical violations at one of the state's facilities and after a NewsChannel 5 investigation revealed serious problems at the other.more>>
A family blames their veteran's death on neglect inside a state-run nursing home.more>>
Just how bad have conditions been inside the state's nursing home for veterans?
Now, explosive new documents suggest life may have been a lot rougher inside the Tennessee State Veterans Homes than even the governor has wanted to admit.
Investigative reporter Jennifer Kraus has found federal authorities demanded the state immediately take action after they concluded the veterans homes were likely responsible for more than one patient's death.
After state inspectors cited the Tennessee State Veterans Home in Murfreesboro this summer for putting patients' lives in danger, Gov. Phil Bredesen, at least publicly, maintained that the problems were not serious and, for the most part, due to sloppy record-keeping.
Bredesen told NewsChannel 5 back in June, "In many cases, proper follow-up had been done but it wasn't documented. We're satisfied that no one is being harmed today."
Just days before, the governor took the unprecedented step of telling all three of the state-run nursing homes for vets that they were not to take in any new patients until further notice.
Now, NewsChannel5 has obtained letters that show that the state was, in reality, reacting to findings by the U.S. Department of Justice that accuse Tennessee of providing anything but quality care to its veterans.
In fact, federal investigators go so far as to blame the Tennessee State Veterans Homes in both Murfreesboro and Humboldt for causing the "avoidable" and "untimely" deaths of patients.
NewsChannel 5 began exposing the problems more than a year ago, revealing how veterans were wasting away to nothing right before the nursing home staff's eyes.
One veteran's daughter-in-law, Debbie Compton, told NewsChannel 5, "They starved him to death. They had documentation in there that he was losing weight but no one ever did anything about it."
We also first brought to light how veterans' bedsores went untreated.
Another veteran's daughter said her father had a sore "so deep you could stick your fist into it."
And former Veterans Home employees shared with us how veterans were frequently and unnecessarily overmedicated and sedated.
One former nurse told us he didn't understand why one patient in particular was kept "drugged up all the time. He didn't know what was going on."
But according to just released documents, when federal inspectors with the U.S. Justice Department went into the Murfreesboro and Humboldt Homes this spring, they still found "serious deficiencies" and conditions they called "egregious."
Their scathing reports call the nursing homes' treatment of patients "grossly" and "dangerously inadequate."
They go on to describe patients as being inappropriately overmedicated, severely dehydrated, malnourished, and suffering from bedsores so deep you could see the bone. And, inspectors say this all contributed to veterans' deaths.
After receiving these reports, the governor finally stepped in.
Back in June he told NewsChannel 5, "We sent in a team of doctors. We sent in a team of nurses."
Still, he never publicly admitted that he was doing it because the U.S. Justice Department was breathing down his neck and threatening to take the state to court if Tennessee didn't take immediate action to stop the needless deaths of its veterans.
Just last week, the state sent a letter to the Justice Department denying that it played any role in the deaths of any veterans.
At the same time, in that same letter, the state outlined what it was doing to address the problems that federal inspectors found.
Now, the state has wanted to keep everything about this investigation confidential. It even says so in the documents were received from the state.
But we had argued that the public, and more importantly, the state's veterans and their families had a right to know just what was going on in the Veterans Homes.
The state agreed then to give NewsChannel5 the letters it sent to the Department of Justice and the letters it received from the DOJ.
However, there is much more in this case that the state is still refusing to release.