Family files lawsuit after Korean War vet's COVID-19 death at LaSalle Veterans' Home

CHICAGO (WLS) -- After 36 veterans died after contracting COVID-19 during an outbreak at the LaSalle Veteran's Home last year, the family of an 87-year-old Korean War veteran says procedures were not in place to protect residents of the veterans home when the pandemic hit.

Before he succumbed to COVID last Christmas, Donald Hacker was a celebrated veteran of the Korean War who won a camera playing poker on the front lines and documented his days as a military firefighter.

By November 2019, dementia had set in and he was installed at the state home for veterans in LaSalle, two hours southwest of Chicago. A year later he had a fall and then was diagnosed with COVID.

RELATED | Deadly COVID outbreak at LaSalle Veterans' Home could have been prevented: report

Family could only talk to him through glass booths with faulty technology. He went downhill fast, passing away on December 2.

His family said he could only have contracted COVID at the facility, a place rife with mismanagement of the disease as documented last month by the Inspector General of the Illinois Department of Human Services. Now, the family is suing.

"All of the things that the families were asked to do - to refrain from seeing their loved ones, to follow certain rules that were put in place by the facility - they did that operating under the assumption that the leadership of the facility and the staff of the facility was going to hold up their end of the bargain," said Michael Bonamarte, attorney for family of Donald Hacker.

RELATED: 'Something happened' at LaSalle Veterans' Home to cause 34 COVID deaths, prompting lawsuit

On Monday, Republican lawmakers stood with veterans outside the home demanding hearings on GOP bills addressing the state's seeming inability to fight infectious disease in veterans' homes - lessons they say should have already been learned.

"Both the Dept. of Veterans Affairs and the Dept. of Public Health had over a year before COVID-19 hit to implement the life-saving recommendations from the 2019 auditor general's report dealing with the Quincy outbreak," said State Sen. Sue Rezin, R-38th District.

Mr. Hacker's family has not said what the objective of their legal action is, other than to correct an obvious misdeed. In the meantime, a beloved grandfather and servant to the nation is gone.

"As a veteran myself, the top-to-bottom incompetence shown in the management of this crisis is an outrage and many have culpability. The Pritzker administration, his appointees and those managing the day-to-day operations at the facility had a responsibility to protect the veterans who live here," said State Sen. Craig Wilcox, R-

The staff wasn't trained on how to make sure they didn't spread it," said Colleen Kent, Hacker's daughter.

ABC7 has reached out to the governor's office for a response to the lawsuit and the claims of the Republican lawmakers, but they have not returned our call.
Copyright © 2021 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.