A recently-released analysis by the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) showed that the agency paid about $845 million in medical malpractice payments since 2003. This amount of money was paid to over 4,400 veterans who were injured through medical negligence. Medical malpractice attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm frequently work on behalf of injured veterans, and know just how damaging the effects of malpractice can be, and that no amount of money can make the victim whole again.
In 2012 alone, the VA settled over 450 cases, totaling more than $98 million. This number is causing Congress, medical experts and public watchdog groups to question whether the VA is learning from its mistakes and improving its practices accordingly. Over the past decade the VA has not enacted or even proposed a major reform program within its hospital systems.
Stories of Fatal Neglect
Dayton Daily News dug deeper into the issue, speaking to families of injured veterans and reporting on their stories. Among their stories include a 20-year-old who was admitted to a VA hospital for a routine tooth extraction and left in a wheelchair, paralyzed and unable to speak. Another family watched their loved one, a Vietnam War veteran, die of cancer after VA doctors missed the diagnosis several times over three years.
The VA hospital network is one of the largest in the nation – in 2012, it treated about 6.3 million veterans. When malpractice claims are made, the VA settles financially with about a quarter of them (private U.S. hospitals pay out about 20% of claims).
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One of the highest recent VA payouts was awarded to the family of a retired Air Force captain, who flew B-52s in the Vietnam War. He was admitted to the Atlanta VA to undergo treatment for a heart arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat). During laser surgery, doctors accidentally punctured his heart, though fortunately he survived and was released shortly after.
In the ensuing months he was hospitalized several times due to dizziness and was prescribed numerous medications. During his last ER visit it became clear his organs were failing, and his heart continued to lead blood, requiring emergency surgery. His wife asked for an autopsy and requested the hospital launch an internal investigation. After the investigation and subsequent lawsuits, the hospital admitted he died from neglect, and settled with his family for $300,000.
How VA Lawsuits Differ
Malpractice lawsuits against the VA hospitals differ in many ways from lawsuits against private hospitals in several ways because the VA is a federal department. In more traditional suits against private hospitals, plaintiffs can hold individual physicians, nurses or other administrators liable for negligence. At the VA that is not possible. Plaintiffs must sue the entire hospital or not at all; individual employees cannot be sued.
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At the same time, VA hospital personnel are consistently given pay raises and transfers even if their conduct has resulted in serious injury or malpractice claims. A federal report confirmed that, in 2011, the VA awarded performance bonuses and awards in the amount of $160 million to staffs without properly associating the bonuses with esteemed performance. Many of the bonuses even went to administrators who oversaw massive adverse events at their respective hospitals, including fatal outbreaks of Legionnaires disease, veteran suicides, and sterilization oversights.
Instead of disciplining or removing negligent staff from their positions, the VA merely transfers them to a different hospital. So, instead of those who actually commit the medical negligence being held responsible for their acts, the costs shift to the taxpayer. When doctors, nurses and administrators are not held accountable, it causes long-lasting, far-reaching consequences, felt most heavily by those that least deserve it: injured veterans and their families.
The purpose of medical malpractice lawsuits, regardless of who the defendant is, is to find out the truth of what happened to the victim and why, and ultimately receive justice for the harm done. If you or a loved one was seriously injured by an act of medical negligence, contact our team of malpractice attorneys today for a free legal consultation.