(CBS) – The bodies of military veterans lay unclaimed for weeks at a time at the Hines VA Hospital, a whistleblower alleges.
Staff from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington are in town looking into that complaint.
CBS 2’s Charlie De Mar reports.
When 68-year-old Marine veteran George Taylor died, no family or friends claimed him. Earlier this month, Jackie Gluekert and her funeral home made sure the hero got a dignified send-off — a burial in an a national cemetery.
“It is a final salute, and I’m proud to do it,” Jackie Glueckert says.
A whistle-blower inside the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital says unclaimed vets aren’t getting the proper goodbye they deserve.
Internal emails obtained by CBS 2 reveal at least two unclaimed vets sat inside the morgue for at least 30 days this summer, allowing the bodies to badly decompose.
U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois complained to the VA secretary and even introduced new legislation.
“The VA should be sickened and embarrassed by yet another exposed case of corruption and mistreatment of our veterans at Hines,” Kirk says. “I have personally called Secretary McDonald and asked him to fire Christopher Wirtjes, the Chief responsible for this shameful treatment of our veterans’ remains. Bureaucrats at Hines should spend as much time helping veterans as they do covering up neglect and abuse.”
Last year, Wirtjes was put on leave for ordering staff to manipulate waiting times but has since been reinstated.
The VA said an investigation continues but signaled it has not uncovered any widespread problem.
“We take whistleblower allegations very seriously and absolutely agree that all of our veterans deserve dignity and respect, in life and in death. While our investigation into this matter is still ongoing, we have found allegations related to consistent problems with dignified and timely burials to be unsubstantiated. However, we have taken this opportunity to review our policies and procedures and are currently working to improve them,” a spokesperson said.
When a veteran dies at the VA hospital and goes unclaimed, arrangements are supposed to be made with an outside funeral home. For whatever reason, this whistle-blower says, that is simply not happening in a timely fashion.