Nine VA Officials Placed on Leave After Patient Died in Ant-Infested Veterans’ Home

The U.S Department of Veterans Affairs took action in response to reports of a patient who suffered ant bites while he lay dying at an Atlanta VA nursing home, placing the regional leaders and staff members on administrative leave while conducting an internal investigation.

On Sept. 17, VA officials said in a press release that the federal agency has put VA Southeast Network Director Leslie Wiggins on leave and reassigned Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ajay Dhawam to other duties, pending a review of quality and safety issues. They placed seven staff members into non-patient care positions while an investigation board looks into how the Atlanta VA Medical Center handled the issue.

The VA’s response came days after soon-to-retire Senator Johnny Isakson (R-Ga), who chairs the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, demanded answer over the death of Joel Marrable, a Vietnam War veteran who was being treated for cancer at the Eagles Nest Community Living Center. The 73-year-old was found covered in ants twice in his last two days and had over 100 bites on his body, according to his daughter.

NTD Photo
Air force veteran Joel Marrable pictured with ant bites on his body at a VA center in Georgia. (Courtesy Laquna Ross/CNN)

The daughter, Laquna Ross, told Channel 2 Action News that her father’s room had ants “everywhere,” including the ceiling, the walls, and the beds. “The staff member says to me,” she said. “‘When we walked in here, we thought Mr. Marrable was dead. We thought he wasn’t even alive, because the ants were all over him.'”

Veterans’ home staff bathed her father and cleaned the room, but the ants were back the next day, Ross said. Marrable was then moved to a different room and died there.

“If it didn’t promote his body to die quicker, what is the protocol within the VA just to manage when something like this happens?” Ross said to the television station. “He served his country in the Air Force, and I think that he deserved better.”

“I am shocked, horrified and downright maddened by the news that a veteran under the care of the VA was treated so poorly and without any regard for his wellbeing,” Sen. Isaksons said last Thursday, reported the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The Georgia Republican added he was frustrated that the VA failed to inform the Congress of the incident until hours before the news reports were published.

“I am so sad for his family who had to discover his insect-infested conditions before anything was reportedly done,” said Isakson.