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Miami VA Chief Defiant, Vows To Stay On

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The embattled chief of staff for the Miami VA said he has no intention of resigning, despite calls for him to step down following revelations that in 2009 he agreed never to practice medicine again in the state of New York and was sanctioned by the state of Florida for allegedly failing to provide the proper care to one of his patients who died a painful and gruesome death.

In many ways, Dr. Vincent DeGennaro, who is paid more than $320,000 a year to oversee the medical care of VA patients in Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties, has come to symbolize the lack of accountability within the VA system.

Last week, Senator Marco Rubio cited DeGennaro as an example of an administrator who is protected by the VA’s bureaucracy. “I do think that given all of the news that now surrounds the scandals regarding the VA that [officials] like the one in Miami should consider resigning before going through a process that brings unneeded controversy to a VA already plagued by controversy,” Rubio said.

And the chairman of the House Veteran Affairs Committee asked bluntly: Why is someone like DeGennaro in a position of authority at the Miami VA?

But in his first public comments, DeGennaro appeared unfazed by the attacks, even defiant.

“I will withstand all of the scrutiny,” he told CBS4’s Jim DeFede.

Told that there were a number of people who thought he should resign, DeGennaro dismissively replied: “And?”

“So you have no intention of resigning,” DeFede asked him.

“None,” DeGennaro said.

CBS4 News found DeGennaro and the director of the Miami VA, Paul Russo, as the two men were on their way to visit Representative Joe Garcia and a group of veterans at Garcia’s congressional office. (Later the pair visited Republican Representatives Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.)

“The Miami VA is working hard to improve access to veterans,” Russo said before the Garcia meeting. “And in some areas we do have some access issues.” But, he quickly added, “our numbers are getting better.”

Russo said backlogs for service are being addressed by hiring additional staff, authorizing more overtime and in some cases by sending veterans to non-VA private physicians.

Russo also addressed the controversy surrounding the death of Nicholas Cutter, a 27-year-old Iraq war veteran suffering from PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury. Cutter overdosed in the Miami VA’s in-patient drug rehab program. The Inspector General for the VA noted Cutter’s death followed a series of problems within the Miami drug rehab program – including staff members who were failing to monitor patients and a security system that didn’t work.

Watch Jim DeFede’s report, click here

As CBS 4 News first reported, Cutter’s mother was never told her son had overdosed on cocaine. She had been led to believe he may have choked on a sandwich. It wasn’t until CBS4 showed her the report that she realized he had died because of his own drug use in the facility.

Russo acknowledged his staff made a mistake in how they handled Cutter’s death. He was especially sorry they should have contacted the family and especially his mother once the cause of death was determined.

“I do feel we lost track of following up with his mother, we should have done that better and I sent a personal apology letter to her regarding that,” he said, adding “I believe that was the right thing to do.”

In their meeting with Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart the two VA executives were told they needed to rebuild the public’s trust by being more forthcoming with information.

“Transparency and accountability go hand in hand,” Diaz-Balart said he told Russo and DeGennaro.

It is not clear if they will take that advice to heart as reporters were unable to speak to them. While camera crews were herded into a conference room, Russo and DeGennaro slipped out of the building to avoid them.

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