- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 3, 2015

RAYVILLE, La. (AP) - Amid two probes of former Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David LaCerte, state officials say the removal of LaCerte’s name from a bronze plaque commemorating the state’s newest veterans cemetery isn’t connected to the investigations.

Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera and Inspector General Stephen Street Jr. are conducting separate, but coordinating investigations of LaCerte’s operation of the department. LaCerte resigned Oct. 8 at Gov. Bobby Jindal’s request.

Meanwhile, The News Star reports (http://tnsne.ws/1NOSrVe ), it’s a mystery who authorized the removal of LaCerte’s name from the plaque at the new Northeast Louisiana Veterans Cemetery near Rayville.

Veterans Affairs spokesman Robin Keller said VA and Division of Administration staff recently noticed LaCerte’s name on the plaque and discussed it, but nobody approved removing his name.

“It was one of many topics of conversation with the contractor about a punch list,” Keller said. “Later when we followed up with the contractor we got an email saying it had already been done. I don’t know if he misunderstood or something else happened.”

Among the issues in the probes are the conditions at Louisiana’s veterans nursing homes and treatment and oversight of the patients who live there. Louisiana operates veterans nursing homes in Jackson, Reserve, Jennings, Bossier City and Monroe.

Complaints range from allowing excessive alcohol consumption by patients and staff not following up on reported abuse as well as the destruction of public records.

On Oct. 22 the director of nurses at the Jackson home was arrested and accused of destroying public records that detailed injuries suffered by patients.

Street called his office’s investigation “very active” and said it encompasses “a number of different things,” although he declined to offer new details.

“We’re working as fast as we can,” Street said. “Stay tuned.”

Purpera said the issues “are certainly serious enough we wanted to put additional efforts toward the issues that have already come to light in the previous audit,” but also declined to cite specifics because of the ongoing investigation.

“There is no timeline for completing (the investigation),” Purpera said. “We had hoped for four to eight weeks, but it may take longer.”

Interim Veterans Affairs Secretary Thomas Enright said the investigations and the removal of LaCerte’s name from the plaque shouldn’t tarnish the celebration of the new veterans cemetery.

“The Veterans of Northeast Louisiana have been waiting for over a decade for this new cemetery to be established,” Enright said. “Nothing should detract from the significance of this accomplishment.”

A grand opening at the cemetery has been scheduled at 11 a.m. Nov. 10.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs funded construction of the $7.3 million cemetery, but the state oversees and operates it.

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Information from: The News-Star, http://www.thenewsstar.com

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