The chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on Thursday penned a scathing letter demanding answers on allegations a registered nurse drank at least five beers before participating in a surgical procedure on a veteran.
In a letter to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert A. McDonald obtained by the Times Leader, U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller denounced the alleged actions of VA nurse Richard. J. Pieri and asked for all relevant documents regarding the claims leveled against the 59-year-old from Drums.
Police allege Pieri, who has been a registered nurse since 1979, was drinking beer and playing slots at Mohegan Sun Pocono casino on Feb. 4 when he was paged to assist in an emergency surgical procedure at Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center. An off-balance Pieri staggered into the hospital and struggled through his job duties, according to a police affidavit.
“These alleged actions of Mr. Pieri are egregious and I hope I will receive your full cooperation in this case going forward,” wrote Miller, a Florida Republican who in 2011 became chairman of the committee, which oversees the Department of Veterans Affairs and its over 300,000 employees.
Miller went on to credit hospital staff for removing Pieri from patient care, but questioned how he was still on the job.
“While I appreciate the department’s efforts to remove this individual from patient care, I think our veterans and the American taxpayers are still left questioning why he is still on the payroll,” Miller wrote in the letter.
A message left Thursday at the veterans affairs department in Washington, D.C., was not immediately returned.
Miller requested the film footage that allegedly shows Pieri stumbling into work, an update on the investigation into the allegations as well as whether anyone realized Pieri was intoxicated during the procedure and, if so, why no one had him removed.
The Republican also asked to be provided with an update on the yet unidentified patient whose surgery Pieri participated in and whether the veteran, who allegedly was later readmitted with stomach pains, was aware of the situation.
A second letter, also obtained by the Times Leader, was addressed to the medical center and sought similar documents pursuant to “an ongoing oversight investigation of matters within the jurisdiction of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.”
Efforts Thursday evening to reach a public affairs official at the hospital were unsuccessful.
Pieri on Feb. 17 was charged with reckless endangerment, driving under the influence and public drunkenness. A summons was issued Monday for Pieri, but an official with District Judge Joseph D. Spagnuolo Jr. said Pieri will not be required to appear before a judge until a preliminary hearing slated for March 29.
Reach Joe Dolinsky at 570-991-6110 or on Twitter @JoeDolinskyTL