The Center for Investigative Journalism reports that in the decade following 9/11 the Department of Veterans Affairs paid $200 million to nearly 1,000 families in wrongful death cases. The median payment for each family was $150,000. Thirty-nine of the veterans died due to malpractice at the clinics in Danville, Marion, and Hines, Illinois alone.
Delayed diagnosis, delay in treatment, and improper performance repeatedly appear as the type of malpractice in these cases. The report includes a Shreveport, Louisiana veteran who overdosed on morphine in a locked psychiatric unit and a delusional Portland, Oregon veteran who jumped off the roof of a VA hospital. It also includes Iraq War heroes who committed suicide after being turned away for mental health treatment and Vietnam veterans who died from known cancerous tumors that were allowed to grow. The Seattle Times reports that the 1,000 families includes the family of a veteran who bled to death after knee replacement surgery and the family of another who died after being sent home with fractured ribs and a fractured spine.
Nursing Home Fall
The Times also reported on the death of one World War II veteran. The man fell in the bathroom two days after being admitted to a VA nursing home. He became paralyzed from the neck down and died nine days later. His sister had explicitly asked that he not be left alone, and the hospital when ahead and did it anyway. The sister received a $135,000 settlement. She explained what many of those who have been the victims of medical malpractice feel, “It wasn’t about the money; I just thought somebody should be held accountable.”
In response to the report, a House committee has scheduled a hearing on April 9, 2014 regarding preventable deaths in VA facilities. But this will not be the first such hearing. On September 9, 2013, there was a hearing that specifically focused on veteran deaths at VA hospitals in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Texas, and Mississippi. USA Today reported after that hearing that lawmakers focused in large part on bonuses that VA management received despite the horrifying number of preventable deaths on their watch. In addition to the monetary bonuses, one such manager was actually nominated for one of the most prestigious awards received by public servants after he was in part responsible for the mishandling of an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease at a VA hospital.
The legislature continued to press the VA for accountability at a budget meeting just last month. According to the Center for Investigative Journalism, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki told legislators that 6,000 VA employees had been “involuntarily removed” in the past two years due to these medical errors.
Only time will tell if someone at a higher level will be held accountable for all of these senseless preventable deaths. This sort of malpractice does not just happen in VA hospitals. It can happen to anyone at any kind of hospital. That is why the preservation of our civil justice system is so important. Professionals who hurt people instead of helping them should be held accountable.
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