A vermin infestation has overrun the kitchen of a suburban Chicago Veteran Affairs hospital and is reportedly so severe that cockroaches routinely crawl across countertops as cooks prepare meals. The insects have even found their way into patients’ food, employees say.

The bug invasion has attracted the attention of a U.S. senator who is demanding to know how the VA is fixing the problem. It’s just the latest scandal at an agency rocked by allegations of abuse, incompetence and the needless deaths of veterans who wait years for medical appointments.

“The workers try to brush the cockroaches off the counters, but the bugs get in the food,” said Germaine Clarno, a social worker at the Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital in the Chicago suburb of Hines, Ill. Clarno is the local AFGE union president and has been working with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel as a whistleblower exposing secret appointment wait lists.

Clarno said she witnessed the problem firsthand three years ago when she saw roaches crawling on a dinner plate brought to a patient’s room. She recalled sending the food back before the veteran had a chance to see it and paying for a pizza delivery from an outside restaurant. “It’s been like this for years, ever since anyone can remember,” Clarno said.

Dietetic technician Kelvin Gilkey has been a VA employee for 33 years. He recounted how PTSD-traumatized veterans in the mental health unit were served cockroaches on food trays on three different occasions last year. One veteran, in his 20s, became enraged and started swearing in disbelief, demanding to be discharged. 

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