Veteran’s Malpractice Payouts Reach 12-Year High

Medical malpractice lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm report that veterans’ medical malpractice payouts are steadily rising as more soldiers require care. The U.S. government made more than 400 payments in 2012 to resolve malpractice suits against Veteran’s Affairs hospitals, costing it nearly $92 million.

One of these cases, filed by Christopher Ellison, recently resulted in a $17.5 million judgment for him and his family. He went to the Philadelphia veteran’s medical center in 2007 to have eight teeth removed, however, what should have been a routine visit left him physically incapacitated for the rest of his life.

Other cases against the VA resulting in permanent disability have been the result of delays in or missed diagnoses, and surgeries performed on wrong body parts. Though these types of medical mistakes are often found in the general public’s healthcare system, the significant rise in VA malpractice claims illuminates deep flaws in the system’s practices.

A Representative from Florida told Bloomberg that these rapid malpractice judgments reflect the pattern of preventable deaths of soldiers at VA hospitals. He asserted that what the VA is most lacking, is not money or resources, but accountability. The Representative, Jeff Miller, is also Chairman of the Committee on Veteran’s Affairs.

On September 9, 2013, Representative Miller and the House Committee on Veteran’s Affairs held a hearing to examine the most recent preventable mistakes at VA medical centers nationwide, including an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease a few years ago that killed at least five veterans. The inspector general of the VA is currently conducting a criminal investigation into that incident, which was caused by bacterial infections spread through the water supply, and which we reported on in March of this year.

At least one family, that of John Ciarolla, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Pittsburgh VA. They were not even aware of the outbreak until over a year and a half after Ciarolla’s passing. Families of the other veterans who died of Legionnaires’ were very outspoken about the length of time it took the VA to contact families about the outbreak, prompting the investigation.

One son whose father died from the outbreak said that his father was permitted to shower, wash and drink hospital water for sixteen days without any warning of a potential health problem. He died from the bacterial exposure. His son also plans to file a claim against the VA.

There are currently about 1.2 million American soldiers that are due to become veterans before 2017, more and more of whom are being diagnosed with complex diseases, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, that frankly, physicians do not know a lot about yet. Others suffer from injuries that would have been fatal in Vietnam or World War II. The median age of these new veterans is between 25 to 34 years old – comparatively, the median age for Vietnam, World War II and Korean War eras was 65 and older.

The VA system must learn to change and adapt to the new generation of veterans, who suffer from vastly different ailments, conditions and require alternative treatments, including psychological care. Relatedly, medical malpractice payouts are now larger because the life expectancy of injured veterans is now decades longer.

In clearer terms, if a VA surgeon accidentally cuts off the wrong leg of a 70-year-old Vietnam War vet, whose life-expectancy is around 75, that patient is entitled to five years of damages. If that same surgeon accidentally cuts off the wrong leg of someone whose just come back from Afghanistan, who is perhaps 25, the payout will be much larger because he or she is entitled to at least 50 years of damages.

The VA system encompasses 52 hospitals and about 19,000 physicians; in 2012, the VA system treated about 5.6 million veterans, which is a 32% increase from 2002. No one would disagree that professionals in the VA system perform high-quality, incredibly important work – however, oversight needs to improve to hold physicians and nurses accountable for preventable mistakes.

Experts and officials are watching the rise in VA malpractice payouts closely because the money is coming from the federal government, and therefore from taxpayers’ wallets. Americans have spent a minimum of $700 million to resolve malpractice claims against the VA since 2001, so it is an issue that affects us all.

Medical malpractice lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm are currently reviewing cases of veterans injured through medical negligence at VA hospitals nationwide. If you or a loved one was seriously injured at a medical center, you have important legal rights, and may be entitled to compensation for your injuries or wrongful death.

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