Case of Fort Benning soldier who contracted flesh-eating bacteria under congressional inquiry

Local News

The medical treatment a California National Guardsman received at Fort Benning while he was going through Basic Training is now under Congressional inquiry, News 3 has learned. 

Dez Del Barba, 21, of Stockton, Calif., was diagnosed with the flesh-eating disease known as necrotizing fasciitis while at Fort Benning. Since Feb. 11, Del Barba has undergone 17 surgeries and lost his left leg above the knee. There is a possibility he could lose his right leg as treatment continues at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.

In a letter dated April 10 to Lt. Gen. Nadja West, surgeon general of the U.S. Army, Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, Ga., asked for more details on the claims that Del Barba’s medical care was insufficient and that he was discouraged from seeking medical attention.

“I would respectfully request that you inquire into the circumstances of these events and report back on what steps the Army will take to remediate the situation with Private Del Barba, what protocols need to be put in place by Training and Doctrine Command regarding wellness issues for trainees, and what protocols might be appropriate for other branches of military in their training,” Bishop wrote.

Mark Del Barba, Dez’s father, has questioned the medical care his son received at Fort Benning in early February. Recently has reached out to a number of federal lawmakers asking for a congressional inquiry. Two — Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., and Bishop — have responded.

McNerney represents Del Barba’s home district and Fort Benning is in Bishop’s district. Over the weekend, McNerney visited with Del Barba and his family in San Antonio.

Bishop said he has yet to talk to McNerney about the situation.

McNerney sent a letter last week to Secretary of the Army Mark Esper, said Nikki Cannon, McNerney’s communications director.

McNerney has asked the secretary what steps the Army has taken to find the cause of the A streptococcus outbreak at Fort Benning earlier this year. He has also asked about how the Del Barba case has progressed to this point, Cannon said.

News 3 has requested on-camera interviews with Maj. Gen. Gary M. Brito, commander of the Maneuver Center of Excellence, and Col. Larry J. McCord, commander of Benning Martin Community Hospital.  

“Fort Benning is currently declining request for interviews since the incident remains under investigation,” Fort Benning spokesman Ben Garrett responded in an e-mail on Friday. 

On April 4, Fort Benning acknowledged that Del Barba’s situation is the subject of multiple investigations by the U.S. Army. 

Benning Martin Community Hospital has initiated a review of Del Barba’s care. Additionally, there is an investigation into whether or not basic trainees were prevented from seeking medical care.

Bishop spoke with West on Friday about the investigation into the medical care. Bishop said he also spoke with Brito on Monday about the ongoing investigation at Fort Benning.

Del Barba’s condition came about during an outbreak of Group A streptococcus among basic trainees in January and February. Necrotizing fasciitis can develop if strep goes untreated. The Del Barba family claims this is what happened to their son.

After originally telling News 3 and posting on the official Fort Benning social media pages that there had been four cases of strep in early February, Garrett, the Fort Benning spokesman, said earlier this month there had been 61 patients who were symptomatic and tested positive for Group A streptococcus.

Del Barba has obtained his medical records from his time at Fort Benning. Del Barba gave his father consent to speak to News 3 about the medical records, Mark Del Barba said.

Dez Del Barba first sought medical attention on Feb. 7, according to his father. He was tested for strep and that test came back positive at 12:26 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 8, his father said. Del Barba sought medical attention again on Sunday, Feb. 10. 

The positive strep test was noted in his medical files at the time he sought treatment on Feb. 10, his father claims. The next day, Del Barba was hospitalized.

“All they had to do was look at his lab results,” said Del Barba’s father, Mark Del Barba. “It was hand-written in is medical records: ‘Positive for culture. Call AM Monday.’”

The family has documented Dez’s journey on a Facebook page.

Mark and Kamini Del Barba have done an excellent job of outlining their son’s plight, Bishop said. 

“They were very thorough and they are very concerned about their son,” Bishop said. “They want to make sure that he gets everything he needs and his benefits and his treatment is in place and will be there for him. … His life will never be the same.”

There is another reason the Del Barbas are raising these questions, Bishop said.

“They are as equally concerned about making sure that this doesn’t happen to anyone else and the Army takes the necessary steps to alleviate this possibility, to the extent, it is possible to do so,” Bishop said. 

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