Joel Marrable (Laquna Ross via CNN)

Dawn Brys got an early taste of the crisis unfolding at the largest Veterans Affairs hospital in the Southeast.

The Air Force vet said she went to the Atlanta VA Medical Center in Decatur last year for surgery on a broken foot. But the doctor called it off because the surgical instruments hadn't been properly sterilized.

"The tools had condensation on them," recalled Brys, a 50-year-old Marietta resident. The doctor rescheduled it for the next day.

Now the 400-plus-bed hospital on Clairmont Road that serves about 120,000 military veterans is in a state of emergency. It suspended routine surgeries in late September after a string of incidents that exposed mismanagement and dangerous practices. It hopes to resume normal operations by early November as it struggles to retrain staff and hire new nurses.

The partial shutdown came about two weeks after Joel Marrable, a cancer patient in the same VA complex, was found covered with more than 100 ant bites by his daughter. Also in September, the hospital's canteen was temporarily closed for a pest investigation.

The mounting problems triggered a leadership shakeup Sept. 17, when regional director Leslie Wiggins was put on administrative leave. Dr. Arjay K. Dhawan, the regional medical director, was moved to administrative duties pending an investigation. Seven staff members were reassigned to non-patient care.

The only question for some military veterans and staff is why the VA waited so long. They say problems existed for years under Wiggins' leadership, but little was done.

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U.S. Marine Corps/Pfc. Nicole Rogge

Editor’s Note: This article by Gina Harkins originally appeared on Military.com, the premier source of information for the military and veteran community.

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U.S. Marine Corps photo

Editor’s Note: This article by Hope Hodge Seck originally appeared on Military.com, the premier source of information for the military and veteran community.

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U.S. Army photo

Recently, the term “toxic leadership” has broken into mainstream culture. Where it used to mainly occupy wardrooms, ready rooms, and professional journals, it’s now entered the lexicon of pop psychology and management consultants. The military, to its credit, has devoted much time and energy to the study of leadership, probably much more than the civilian world. It has been trying to address the toxic leadership problem for years, with little success.

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U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Brian Hamilton

A great deal of time and effort has been spent by military leaders trying to seek out and prevent horrible command climates. The term often used is “toxic.” Time and effort is spent on sexual harassment and equal opportunity training, suicide awareness, and risk management in order to demonstrate that unit leaders “are doing something” and care about their soldiers.  

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Photo by Canadian Forces CPO 2 Anthony Curtis

During my time in service, I encountered several types of leaders. Some were good, some weren’t so fun to work for, and some were absolutely incredible. Every veteran can recall one or two significant leaders who they would follow into a firefight no matter when, where, or what the odds, based solely on their strong and principled leadership.

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