Head of Louisiana Veterans Affairs steps down after probes look at conditions, oversight at nursing homes _lowres

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- La. Dept. of Veterans Affairs Deputy Secretary David LaCerte, inside the East Baton Rouge Parish Veterans Affairs new office, at its new location at 1755 Florida Boulevard, where it opens for business Thursday.

Dual investigations into conditions at nursing homes for veterans apparently led the Cabinet-level head of the state Department of Veterans Affairs to step down late Thursday.

David LaCerte refused comment late Thursday on his resignation as secretary.

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s press office says the Inspector General’s Office is investigating and referred all questions to Inspector General Stephen Street. He did not respond to a call seeking comment.

Jindal’s office issued a news release that says Jindal’s executive counsel, Thomas Enright, has been named to serve as interim secretary until the end of the administration in early January.

The agency helps veterans and their families with health care, education, disability benefits, long-term care and burial honors. The department was established in 1944 and rose to Cabinet level in 2003.

Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera said his office is investigating the department’s handling of all five nursing homes for veterans. He said the Inspector General’s Office is looking at similar matters, but he did not know what.

Purpera said his auditors interviewed LaCerte Thursday morning, but he was surprised by LaCerte’s resignation.

A report was issued in August. The issue came up again at the Legislative Audit Advisory Council on Sept. 23. Purpera said his office was continuing its probe.

The veterans homes are in Jackson, a suburb of Baton Rouge; Reserve, in the River Parishes; Jennings, in Acadiana; Bossier City; and Monroe, in the northern part of the state.

Complaints had been lodged by residents and family members at all the homes to the U.S., Department of Veterans Affairs and to the state Department of Health and Hospitals. Many of the incidents violated regulations.

The complaints ranged from the staff at the Louisiana War Home, in Jackson, knowing that residents were drinking and driving to the point that one intoxicated resident had to be rushed to the emergency room after falling, to a report of a nurse not following up on a resident’s complaint of being molested.

At the Southwest Louisiana War Veterans Home in Jennings, a resident was physically abused by another resident, and when no protective measures were taken, the same resident was again violated by the same person, according to the audit.

Purpera said that while individual incidents were disturbing, concern was raised that Veterans Affairs had no workable plan to monitor and react to complaints. LaCerte said in the report that the department had made progress and was working on the issue.

The report found: “Of the 1,995 quality assurance reviews, 531 (27 percent) identified areas of noncompliance. However, 286 (54 percent) of these did not have an action plan for correcting the problem identified during the internal quality assurance review, as required by policy.”

Additionally, the veteran homes did not monitor whether contract providers provided quality services. Between 2012 and 2014, the state entered into 87 contracts with 26 providers totaling $7.7 million related to delivery of health services. Most of the contracts required reports, progress notes or statistical data as evidence of services provided. “However, Veteran homes did not request any of these reports from contract providers in order to monitor the contract requirements,” Purpera’s report stated.

Veterans Affairs spokeswoman Robin Keller acknowledged that the agency is under investigation. Keller said she had not been given details, including who is doing the investigation. “We are cooperating, and we are maintaining our focus on caring for veterans,” she said.

LaCerte is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and led more than 100 combat patrols and missions in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Enright, who takes over as interim secretary, also served in the Marines and participated in the evacuation of the American Embassy in Mogadishu, Somalia in January 1991. He was deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait.

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