Unfortunately, the number of veterans seeking medical aid at VA hospitals is only going to increase in the coming years.
The increase is largely due to veterans who are seeing duty in Iraq or Afghanistan. According to the VA's 2006 annual report more than 750,000 claims for disability benefits were processed in 2006 and more than 250,000 patients were added to the system, creating a backlog of hundreds of thousands of claims.
According to a Reuters article (found at California Nurses Association), soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are surviving injuries that would have killed them in the past, thanks to improvements in medicine and equipment. The article, citing a Harvard University study and the Department of Veterans' Affairs data, noted that in Vietnam 2.6 soldiers were wounded for every one death. However, that number currently sits at 16 wounded for every one death. The increase in non-mortally wounded veterans means that there will be more patients waiting for treatment and using the services of VA hospitals.
Veterans Affairs hospitals in Massachusetts came up with a plan to improve the quality of care at their facilities, but that means consolidating the treatment services at four facilities. Critics of the plan worry that consolidation of the hospitals will create undue hardships on veterans in the area because it will likely result in longer wait times for services and long commutes to get to the hospital.
For a system that already seems stretched to the maximum, given the number of complaints about wait times for service, the added pressure to the system will likely cause more issues unless something is done to alleviate the problem. Unfortunately, adding more patients to an already stressed system increases the likelihood that mistakes may be made in patient care.
What is medical malpractice?
Medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare provider is professionally negligent in caring for a patient and that negligence results in an injury or death. Usually medical malpractice claims are brought against physicians, however any health care provider, including nurses, dentists, and therapists can have a claim brought against them.
In order for a malpractice claim to be successful, the plaintiff must show that the health care provider owed the patient a duty of care, that the duty was breached, that the breach caused an injury, and that there were damages which were financial and/or emotional.
Medical malpractice can involve being given incorrect medication, use of unsterile equipment, operating on the wrong body part, and incorrect diagnoses, to name a few of the problems. Last year, thousands of veterans received letters advising them that if they had a prostate biopsy in recent years they should be checked for Hepatitis C or AIDS exposure due to unsterile conditions in VA hospitals.
Veteran Medical Malpractice
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Negligence and malpractice claims resulting from treatment at VA hospitals are actually filed against the United States government. Typically, people filing claims may be entitled to recovery for economic damages (i.e. compensation for medical expenses, wage loss, and out-of-pocket expenses), non-economic damages (loss of quality of life, emotional distress, pain, and suffering) and compensation for physical impairment.