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Family Of Man Who Died From Legionnaires' Disease At Pittsburgh VA Hospital Speaks Out, Announces Intention To File Suit

PITTSBURGH, Dec. 10, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- A family from Hampton Township, a Pittsburgh suburb, announced today that they intend to file a claim against the United States Department of Veterans Affairs as a result of a death from Legionnaires' disease. William E. Nicklas, 87, died from Legionnaires' disease on November 23, 2012 at the VA Hospital on University Drive, which is operated by the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System. A total of five patients had contracted the disease at the hospital in November, with Mr. Nicklas being the only fatality.

Harry S. Cohen, attorney for the family, said he served the United States Government Monday with a "Form 95," which is the federal government's prerequisite notice form to present a claim against the VA under the Federal Tort Claims Act. According to Mr. Cohen, the federal government will have six months to investigate and respond and/or settle the claim before his firm is permitted by law to initiate a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

"The family of Mr. Nicklas, including his widow, children and grandchildren, are devastated by his death," said Mr. Cohen. "Based on information we've obtained, this death was very preventable. It appears as though the VA Hospital failed to properly maintain its water systems, despite recurring illnesses at the hospital and despite warnings from experts."

"My father was very proud to be a veteran, and proud of his service to our country," said David Nicklas, one of Mr. Nicklas' three sons. "He had Medicare and supplemental insurance, so he could have chosen any hospital. But as a veteran he trusted the VA to care for him. The VA betrayed that trust, just like they have for other veterans who were sickened. We want to do everything we can to make sure no other veterans suffer like my father did and like we are now," said Mr. Nicklas.

William Nicklas had been in very good health until first being admitted to the VA Hospital on University Drive in early October for shortness of breath. He was admitted for two days and discharged with instructions to follow up with his doctor. In the weeks that followed, Mr. Nicklas visited with his doctor and a beta blocker was prescribed. After a few days of taking the medication he became nauseated and dehydrated; and on November 1, he returned to the VA Hospital where he was admitted and treated for dehydration. He was recovering, but on November 17 problems developed with his kidneys, liver and blood.

The family was informed on the same day that Mr. Nicklas had developed an infection, and on November 21 they were told that he had contracted Legionnaires' disease. Mr. Nicklas' physical and mental condition deteriorated rapidly, until his death two days later. Legionnaires' disease is a type of pneumonia caused by breathing in water tainted by Legionella bacteria.

"We were repeatedly told at the VA that they expected my dad to make a full recovery, until the time that they confirmed that he had contracted the Legionnaires' disease," said Robert Nicklas. "He should have been home with us now, celebrating his birthday and then Christmas with my mom, his children, and grandchildren."

"My father's death was totally unexpected and tragic," said Ken Nicklas. "I spoke to him days prior to his death and told him I would be coming home to see him over the Thanksgiving holiday. Once we were advised of him contracting the Legionella bacteria on November 21st, I changed my travel plans to come home a day earlier than expected, but once I arrived at the airport my brothers advised me of his death about two hours earlier. I never got a chance to see him and that's devastating to me."

Mr. Nicklas was a veteran of World War II, entering the Navy in 1944, and serving in the Pacific theater. He was a tail gunner in a Navy fighter plane, attached to an Air Sea Rescue Force, and served at Guam, Saipan, Okinawa and other Pacific islands through his tour of duty. In May of 1946, he was honorably discharged and returned to Pittsburgh, starting his own auto body shop in Glenshaw where he worked for many years.

He married his wife Greta in 1953, and they had three sons. All three sons are married, and two live locally. Mr. Nicklas' son David, because of inspiration from his father, also enlisted in the United States Navy, serving eight years before being honorably discharged.

Mr. Nicklas worked with his son David, Hampton Township officials and other veterans groups to erect a memorial to those who died in military service, which stands in front of his hometown community center in Hampton Township.

U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) is one of several officials who have expressed outrage over the continuing occurrences of Legionnaires' disease at the Pittsburgh VA Hospital. On December 6, in a letter to VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki that was made public by Sen. Casey's office, Sen. Casey said, "The fact that there has been at least one confirmed death connected to this recent outbreak and the continued investigation of further illness is both tragic and deeply disturbing. These men and women have made extraordinary sacrifices for our nation, yet we have failed in our duty to provide them with the quality of care that they have earned and deserve."

SOURCE Harry S. Cohen & Associates, PC

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