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VA mistake leads to veteran’s body being exhumed at Quantico

Burial site of where 78-year-old Robert Fields will be laid to rest again after an autopsy is performed by the VA. (Chris Papst/ ABC7)

The VA Medical Center in Washington, D.C. told the 7 On Your Side I-Team it made a mistake, and now it's being fixed. The body of a veteran who died 19 months ago and was buried in Quantico National Cemetery has been exhumed for an autopsy.

The Director at Quantico National Cemetery told ABC 7- as far as he knows - this has never happened before. Never has the body of a veteran been disinterred at Quantico for an autopsy to be performed - until now.

"I'm sad. I feel heavy. I feel tired. I feel weary,” explained Monica Fields. "I just want to know."

It's now been 558 days since fields lost her father - 558 days of her fighting to find out what killed him.

"I'm tired, Chris, because it has taken all these months,” she added. “It's just emotionally draining."

In February, 2015, Robert Fields underwent routine heart surgery at the VA Medical Center in D.C. The 78-year-old died on the operating table.

Fields' family filed an autopsy request soon after to learn what happened. But a 7 On Your Side Investigation found the autopsy was never done and Fields was buried in Quantico National Cemetery - a serious mistake the VA acknowledged to the I-Team back in May.

"We do own this mistake," said Heather Frazier, Deputy Chief Business Officer at the VA Medical Center in D.C.

Five months after that admission, and 19 months after Field's death, the VA is following through on its promise to make things right.

"Had the VA just been honest from the beginning and then to prolong this out so unnecessarily," Fields questioned.

On Tuesday, in what ABC 7 was told is a first for Quantico, Field's body was exhumed for an autopsy.

For $5,000, the VA flew in a pathologist from California to perform the four hour procedure - a cost that does not include a new casket, disinterment, transportation or reburial.

"Yeah, it's costly to the VA, no doubt," stated Frazier. "It's all about making sure the family has that closure."

Frazier told the I-Team that Fields original autopsy request was never processed. She blamed retirements and a lack of employee training.

Problems she said were corrected, with new procedures and better training, soon after the I-Team broke this story.

"We don't want this to happen again," said Frazier who is confident the changes will prevent this from happening again.

"I hope that's true” replied Fields. “I just don't want any other families to have to endure this because they should not have to."

The autopsy is being performed at the VA Medical Center in Richmond. Results are expected in four to six weeks. But the pathologist told Field's that 19 months after her father's death, results could be inconclusive.

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