A Navy veteran who worked at the Veterans Affairs medical center in West Haven, Connecticut, was one of two men killed in an apparent steam pipe explosion at the facility.
At roughly 8 a.m. Friday, a blast ripped through an administrative building on the medical center campus where a maintenance crew was replacing a steam pipe, according to the medical center's director, Al Montoya.
VA officials did not identify those who died nor the three workers who were injured. An investigation is underway to determine the cause, VA officials said in a press conference Friday afternoon.
Montoya said that he personally delivered the news of the veteran's death to his nearest loved one, in one of the "hardest moments of his VA career."
Montoya said he learned that the veteran had gone to work at VA because he wanted to continue helping fellow veterans.
"He wanted to give back to those men and women who fought so hard," Montoya said. "It's moments like that that really tear at your heart and tear at your soul."
The contractor who died worked for Mulvaney Mechanical, based in Danbury, Connecticut, company Vice President Charles Brough told the Associated Press.
An earlier report that an additional person was missing was incorrect, officials said at the press conference.
The VA facility in West Haven is the 48th largest in the VA health system, serving roughly 58,000 veterans in central and coastal Connecticut. It employees 3,500 workers at a campus that abuts Interstate 95 and has sweeping views of the Long Island Sound.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said that even though the facility looks modern, the façade was actually added to a 1950s-era building that requires constant upkeep and is slated to be replaced.
"Many of our VA facilities are aging and antiquated. This is one of them," Blumenthal said. I can tell you having visited here so many times this tragedy is only the latest indication that this building is past its 'Sell By' date."
Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, pledged to "redouble his efforts" in pressing for modernization of VA facilities, particularly at the West Haven VA medical campus.
"It's on Congress to fully fund modernization and rebuilding of VA facilities across the country," Blumenthal said.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he planned to work with Blumenthal to fund improvements at the campus.
He expressed condolences to the families and friends of those who died as well as their coworkers.
"The maintenance crew here on campus is a tight-knit group. They are going to go through some difficult days and weeks ahead as they deal with this loss, and our hearts and minds are with them," Murphy said.
The VA is currently assessing its real estate portfolio in preparation for an asset and infrastructure review in 2022. The department has nearly 1,000 underused facilities and many aging buildings that require constant maintenance.
According to hospital officials, patient care was not affected by the incident. The facility was operating at 84% patient capacity on Friday, Montoya said.