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Earlier this year, we discussed how the Veterans Affairs Hospital right here in Pittsburgh was under investigation by federal officials following an outbreak of Legionnaires’ — an extremely dangerous respiratory disease — that was eventually linked to five patient fatalities and multiple patient infections.
While you might be tempted to think this kind of medical malpractice was an anomaly and that the facilities run by the Department of Veterans Affairs have a relatively good record of providing safe care for our nation’s brave veterans, statistics reveal that this has not exactly been the case as of late.
According to recently published information, the Department of Veterans Affairs paid out $91.7 million in both court judgments and settlements in the last fiscal year, the highest amount in roughly 12 years. Perhaps even more shocking, these over 400 medical malpractice claims against the VA alleged everything from delayed treatment and misdiagnoses to surgical errors and improper sterilization procedures.
Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), chairperson of the U.S. House Committee on Veterans Affairs, has indicated that many of the problems within the department — which employs roughly 19,000 physicians at 152 hospitals across the U.S. — can be traced to the relative lack of responsibility among staff.
“The rapid rise in malpractice judgments against VA mirrors the emerging pattern of preventable veteran deaths and other patient safety issues at VA hospitals,” said Rep. Miller. “What’s missing from the equation is not money or manpower — it’s accountability.”
Rep. Miller, who has penned a letter to President Obama alerting him to the “alarming pattern of serious and significant patient care issues” at VA hospitals, has lately expressed his disbelief over the fact that many VA physicians whose negligence caused patient harm are still rewarded with bonuses.
For example, a report from the Government Accountability Office last month revealed that some of the $150 million in bonuses available to VA health care providers in fiscal year 2011 went to a radiologist who proved unable to read a mammogram and an ER doctor who declined to see patients.
Currently, the House panel is conducting comprehensive reviews of the aforementioned Legionnaires’ outbreak at the VA here in Pittsburgh, as well as two fatal overdoses and two patient suicides at a VA in Atlanta.
We can only hope that these reviews help to raise awareness and solve the growing problem of medical negligence at some VA facilities. The need for these comprehensive reviews becomes all the more acute when you consider that an estimated 1.2 million military personnel are slated to become veterans over the next four years, and that many of these future vets are relatively young and will require care for years to come.
If you or a loved one has been victimized by any type of medical malpractice — anesthesia error, surgical error, misdiagnosis — consider speaking with an experienced legal professional to learn more about your options and your rights.
Source: Insurance Journal, “Veterans’ medical malpractice costs rising as more soldiers seek care,” Kathleen Miller, September 13, 2013