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Veteran Medical Malpractice

If you are a veteran and you or family members have been injured due to veteran medical malpractice, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD), a VA medical malpractice lawyer can help you determine whether you have a medical negligence lawsuit.

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Veterans Medical Malpractice

file your veteran hospital caseThe VA employees about 19,000 doctors and has 152 hospitals. Since 2003, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)—that provides services for some 22 million American veterans—has paid out approximately $100 million a year to settle more than 3,000 veterans medical malpractice claims. In 2013 the agency tended to 5.6 million veterans, a 32 percent increase from 2002.

As of mid-2014, the VA has spent more than $50 million on medical malpractice claims, according to an analysis of Treasury Department records. In the ten years after 9/11, the VA paid $200 million to nearly 1,000 families in wrongful death cases.

In recent years the VA has been under scrutiny, namely for preventable veteran deaths, infectious disease outbreaks, VA employee bonuses and mismanagement.

Several VA Inspector General reports determined that a number of VA patient care problems are directly linked to mismanagement within VA facilities and that VA bonus pay has no definitive link to performance. Recently, one executive director received a cash bonus of $63,000, according to VA Accountability Watch .

Filing a VA Medical Malpractice Claim

Generally the easiest way to file an administrative claim is to use a Standard Form 95 Claim for Wrongful Death or Injury. Unfortunately it isn’t easy to sue the federal government, particularly without an experienced VA medical malpractice attorney If you were injured due to VA hospital malpractice by a doctor or any medical personnel at a VA hospital, a veterans' lawyer can sue the US government under a federal law called the Federal Torts Claims Act (FTCA).

The Federal Tort Claims Act allows a civilian to claim compensation from the US government when damage is caused by the negligence of an employee or agency (such as VA hospital malpractice) of the US government, including the Veterans Administration (VA). VA medical malpractice law falls within negligence law, which is applicable to all lawsuits by attorneys against medical professionals, from VA hospitals to doctors and dentists to podiatrists and chiropractors.

When you file a § 1151 claim (Federal Tort Claims Act Claim), it is imperative to be aware of the Statute of Limitations (SOL). Once you have filed, the SOL begins ticking for any federal tort claim. As a rule, you will have two years to present an administrative claim from either the date of malpractice, or the date that you knew or should have known of the malpractice. After you have filed, the question is whether you adequately investigated your legal options.

You can file a § 1151 claim without an attorney. However, you must prove that the VA’s medical treatment deviated from generally accepted medical standards. According to vamalpractice.info, many VSOs say that this can be extremely difficult and it means the veteran must fund the cost of supplying expert testimony, so the VA wins, because the veteran did not prove malpractice. If the VA denies you or a family’s claim, the family can appeal the case in federal court.

Increasingly, more medical negligence claims have been directed toward VA medical malpractice claims involving a wide range of mistakes, from prescribing the wrong medication to botched surgeries to failing to diagnose illnesses. Some mistakes have resulted in death.

One reason for the increase is that some 1.2 million additional soldiers are due to become veterans from 2013 through 2017, according to Bloomberg.com. And the median age of veterans is younger, meaning they tend to get larger malpractice payouts which reflect how long the victims will suffer. A study by the Labor Department reports the median range of veterans who served after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in New York and Washington was 25 to 34 years old, whereas veterans who served during the World War II, Korean War and Vietnam eras, had a median age range of 65 and older.

VA Medical Malpractice History

2004
VA Medical MalpracticeA "Primetime Thursday" investigation by Diane Sawyer uncovered disturbing information by hidden cameras about the quality of care and questionable management practices at some VA hospitals, including misdiagnosis. One patient, Terry Soles, who served in the Navy during the war in Vietnam, went to a V.A. hospital for two years complaining of intense abdominal pain and diarrhea. His wife finally took him to a private doctor, who diagnosed cancer: Soles died three days later.

A former VA out-patient clinic psychiatrist was convicted of nine misdemeanor counts of assaulting three patients under his care. He was later convicted of "improper sexual relationship with patient."

2005
The News Hour with Jim Lehrer reported on what the VA is doing to improve patient safety. It revealed many lapses in patient safety over the last decade, including lack of hand washing, wrong site surgery, and that the VA performs surgery on the wrong veteran about once a month. And VA infections frequently occur.

2006
Two years after a report regarding incompetent VA staff, US Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that the VA was still doing a poor job of checking health care providers' backgrounds. (At least 63 cases of malpractice between 1997 and 2002 resulted because of the failure of a supervisor to oversee residents. These cases included misdiagnosis, surgical and medication errors, and inadequate care.)

2007
Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington was investigated after reports of sub-standard conditions at the hospital and treatment of veterans.

A surgeon at the Marion, Ill. VA hospital resigned after a patient bled to death following gall bladder surgery. Between October 2006 and March 2007 the VA reported that at least nine deaths resulted from substandard care at the Marion hospital.

2008
The brachytherapy program at the VA Medical Center in Philadelphia was shut down after it was learned that many veterans had received incorrect radiation doses over a six-year period.

VA Centers in Florida, Georgia and Tennessee potentially exposed 10,000 veterans to viruses including HIV and hepatitis due to inadequate sterilization of endoscopy equipment.

The VA Medical Center in Augusta, Georgia sent a letter to more than 1,200 patients who were treated for ear, nose and throat, warning them they may have been exposed to infections.

Following an investigation at the VA clinic in Murfreesboro, TN, officials discovered that clinic workers were not properly maintaining the medical equipment used to conduct colonoscopies. More than 6,000 patients were notified and offered free testing.

More than 3,200 veterans who received colonoscopies at the Miami VA medical clinic between May 2004 and March 12, 2009 are at risk of exposure to both Hepatitis and HIV.

2009
VA centers in three cities were accused of reusing colonoscopy and endoscopy equipment without properly sanitizing the equipment. At least 50 veterans tested positive for blood borne pathogens.

Approximately 600 veterans received letters from VA informing them of potential neurological diagnoses due ALS—Lou Gehrig's disease. They were not diagnosed with ALS.

Officials announced that veterans in South Florida may have been exposed to Hepatitis and HIV after being examined with contaminated medical equipment.

2010
More than 1,800 veterans at a Missouri VA hospital , were exposed to life-threatening viral infections, specifically hepatitis and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). A former employee at the St Louis hospital told a congressional hearing that she warned a year previously that dental equipment sterilization was inadequate, but no action was taken. The VA determined that lapses in dental sterilization had occurred from Feb. 1, 2009, through March, 11, 2010.

2011
Approximately 80 percent of the 22,500 dentists and doctors and dentists working for the Veterans' Health Administration received performance pay boosts in addition to their base salary, totaling about $150 million. Additionally, about 20 percent of those medical professionals received performance bonus awards that cost more than $10 million.

Read more about VA employee bonuses.

2012
An audit of the Fayetteville VA Medical Center determined that facility employees did not complete required suicide prevention follow-ups 90 percent of the time for high-risk patients. As well, the audit found the center “noncompliant” in cleanliness of patient care areas, environmental safety, dental clinic safety, training and testing procedures.

A VA investigation found that a physician was responsible for misdiagnosed patient complaints and also failed to properly review medication information 56 percent of the time, a step that is “critical to appropriate evaluation, treatment planning, and safety.” Fayetteville VA Medical Center Director Elizabeth B. Goolsby received a performance bonus of $7,604.

2013
Shortly after the VA Inspector General found systemic failures at the Pittsburgh VA led to a recent Legionnaires' outbreak that killed at least five veterans and led to VA malpractice claims, the man in charge of the Pittsburgh system was receiving the government's highest career award that included a $62,895 bonus. The VA’s inspector general is conducting a criminal investigation into the outbreak, which involved bacteria in the hospital system’s water.

2014
VA failed to release internal documents that corroborated at least 19 preventable deaths and VA officials did not respond to direct questions in a House Veterans Oversight and Investigations Hearing.

VA Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

An army veteran who underwent a necessary surgical procedure filed a VA hospital malpractice lawsuit after frostbite, and then gangrene set in necessitating the removal of a five-inch section of the plaintiff's penis. Michael D. Nash of Louisville, Kentucky is seeking $10 million in compensation.

Four veterans died due to medical malpractice at the Coatesville Veterans Affairs Medical Clinic, leading to $1.4 million in settlements with the VA, according to The Center for Investigative Reporting. Four families filed wrongful death lawsuits against the VA that included:
  • Failure to monitor a patient; filed on June 26, 2003 and closed on Jan. 1, 2005 for $100,000.
  • The improper management of a psychiatric patient; filed on Oct. 3, 2005, and closed on Feb. 2, 2008, for $495,578.
  • A wrongful diagnosis or misdiagnosis of a patient; filed on April 16, 2010, and closed on Aug. 19, 2011, for $300,000.
  • Failure to monitor a patient; filed on April 23, 2010, and closed on Dec. 1, 2011, for $500,000. Clerks at the Fort Collins VA clinic were shown how to falsify appointment records so it appeared that doctors were seeing patients within the agency’s goal period, according to USA Today. (The VA’s official policy is that patients should be able to see a medical professional within 14 days of their request or preferred appointment date. If the patient must wait longer, the delay should be documented.)


VA Medial Malpractice Settlements

VA records showed that malpractice payments increased 28 percent in 2012 from 2011. The US Treasury’s Judgment Fund paid out $72 million in 2011. Taxpayers have spent at least $700 million to resolve claims filed against the veterans agency since 2001.

As of May 2014, the VA has settled 68 federal trial court cases brought in 42 venues, from Maine to Southern California. Five of those settlements stemmed from the Northern District of Georgia and the Atlanta VA Medical Center, which provides coverage for 130,000 veterans.

The four Veterans Affairs Medical Centers in North Carolina settled 29 wrongful death cases worth $4.75 million in the decade after the Sept. 11 attacks, according to a new report from the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting.

In Illinois, 25 deaths at the Marion VA resulted in $7.7 million in wrongful death settlements, according to the Chicago Tribune April 30, 2014). The Tribune also reported wrongful death payments to the survivors of 12 veterans who died under the care of the agency's three Chicago-area hospitals, including $300,000 to the family of a veteran who died at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center.

In a wrongful-death settlement against the Fayetteville VA facility, the agency paid out $750,000. The death was caused by the VA’s “failure to diagnose,” meaning a conclusion that the patient had no disease or condition.

Tracy Eiswert’s husband and Iraq War veteran Scott Eiswert, age 31, shot himself in the head in 2008. The Nashville, Tenn., VA had denied his disability claim for PTSD. Three months after his death the agency admitted it made an error and began sending Tracy Eiswert survivor benefits checks of $1,195 a month. After Scott’s suicide, she moved into her car with her two young children. She has now filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the VA, mainly due to the toll her husband's suicide took on their children. The case, filed in 2010, is still pending.

A veteran at the Phoenix VA was diagnosed with reflux, although his blood pressure was high. A VA doctor recommended a cardiac stress test but he had to wait seven weeks. He died of a heart attack a few days later. The case settled for $800,000 in May, 2014.

In 2007 Christopher Ellison went to a Philadelphia VA medical center in Philadelphia to get eight teeth extracted. The surgery left him permanently incapacitated. Ellison and his family received $17.5 million in a malpractice judgment against the Department of VA.

Veterans Affairs wrongful death cases from Sept. 11, 2001, to Nov. 4, 2011:
  • Families who received payments. 978
  • Millions of dollars paid to these families. $209.7
  • Median payment in these claims. $150,000
  • Median number of days to process each claim. 673
This data was obtained and analyzed by The Center for Investigative Reporting.

Filing a Veteran Medical Negligence Lawsuit

cFiling a veterans' medical malpractice claim under the FTCA is complicated and typically requires help from VA medical malpractice lawyers who understand the requirements for filing medical negligence lawsuits. For instance, before you sue, an administrative claim has to be made against the VA for the full amount of damages you have suffered, and that is difficult and risky to determine. Once you have filed your administrative claim, you won't be able to ask for more damages—ever again--unless you have evidence that proves additional damages are warranted and you didn't have knowledge of them prior to filing your claim.

An experienced medical malpractice lawyer can help determine how much in damages you are entitled to receive and will make sure you don't "short change" yourself.

After your administrative claim is filed with the FTCA, the VA is entitled to six months for investigation and review of your claim. The VA can then do the following:
  • Accept the claim and pay it out in full
  • Settle the claim for less
  • Reject the claim outright.
If your claim is rejected, your next step is to file a lawsuit in federal court. If the VA does nothing within six months, this means that your claim has been rejected. You can sue in federal court under the FTCA, which allows you to file a lawsuit within 2 years of discovering your injury and what caused it. But keep in mind that this timeframe includes the 6-month time period needed to file and complete your administrative claim. It is imperative that you meet these legal deadlines; if not you may lose your claim forever. A veterans' lawyer experienced in VA medical malpractice can help to protect your claim and possible recovery.

VA Legal Malpractice

If you have a VA Medical Malpractice claim, it is important that you work with a lawyer who is experienced and specializes in VA Medical Malpractice. Some veterans have their malpractice cases dismissed because their attorney wasn't experienced with VA issues and procedural requirements for bringing a claim under the FTCA. If your lawyer told you that your VA medical malpractice claim was valid, you may have a legal malpractice claim against your lawyer.

A number of VA hospitals have in place an "apology law": administrators and health officials admit their mistakes immediately and negotiate with the victims for extremely low settlements. Although a small settlement can help short-term, lawsuit settlements are typically 6 to 28 times greater than what hospitals are offering.

Veteran Medical Malpractice Legal Help

If you are a veteran and have suffered injuries or negligence at a VA hospital, please click the link below to submit your complaint to a veteran malpractice lawyer for a free claim evaluation.

Last updated on Jul-15-14

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