Medical malpractice occurs in hospitals, medical centers and clinics across the nation every day. It also occurs in Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals– and just as frequently. In fact, a recent study shows that the VA has paid out an astronomical $845 million in medical malpractice claims over the past ten years.

4,426 VA Claims; Some With Horrific Instances of Negligence

According to a report in the Dayton Daily News, Cox Media researchers analyzed ten years of federal treasury data from 2003 to 2012. What they found was that the VA paid out $845 million relating to 4,426 veterans’ medical malpractice claims over that time period. While the types of claims varied by hospital, some were based on horrific instances of negligence, such as:

  • Simple Tooth Extraction Ends in Brain Damage. The largest VA medical malpractice payout, and one of the saddest stories told, involves a Marine Corps veteran who is now severely brain damaged after having some teeth pulled at a VA hospital. According to records, on the day the former Marine went in to have some of his teeth extracted, VA doctors noticed that his blood pressure was dangerously low. However, they went ahead with the extractions and sent him home. The man suffered a stroke and crashed his car only two-tenths of a mile from the hospital. He is now brain damaged, can’t communicate, struggles to walk and requires around-the-clock care. He was awarded $17.5 million last year in the largest VA medical malpractice award to date.
  • Numerous Instances of Misdiagnosis Resulted in Death. An Army veteran went to a VA hospital in 2006 after complaining of chest pain. His doctors examined him, but failed to diagnose a one centimeter lesion that had formed on his left lung. He returned for another visit in 2007, and his doctors again failed to diagnose it. When he returned for a third visit in 2008, the lesion had grown to eight centimeters. This time, doctors found it and referred him to a radiologist for more testing. However, the testing was never ordered, and an X-ray performed in 2009 showed that the lesion had not only grown to 10 centimeters, but it also had metastasized to both lungs. The man died that same year. His wife was awarded $875,000 for VA medical malpractice.
  • Misdiagnosis Resulted In Paralysis. A Vietnam veteran was rushed to a VA hospital in 2006 complaining of severe abdominal pain. Doctors misdiagnosed his condition as something minor and simply sent him home. One of his neighbors came by to check up on him and found him unresponsive. Howell was rushed back to the VA hospital, but ended up in a coma and is now paralyzed. He was awarded $5.7 million for medical malpractice last year. It’s sad to see that thousands of veterans who have come home from fighting for our country and our freedom are injured by the very doctors who are supposed to be helping them. One injured vet summed up the frustration that many feel when they encounter delays in diagnosis and medical treatment. “We’ve seen battle. We’ve seen combat. [W]hy do we have to come back home and fight just to get proper medical care?” It’s no doubt that many other veterans agree with his sentiments.

Maneuvering Through the VA Court Process

Doctors, nurses and other licensed healthcare professionals are held to certain “standards of care” in the work they do. When they breach that standard of care, they can – and should – be held liable for medical malpractice. While medical malpractice doesn’t differ between a private hospital and a VA hospital, the VA court process is very different than the traditional court process.

Maneuvering through the process can be difficult without the help of an experienced medical malpractice lawyer who understands what it takes to make sure that vets who have been harmed by preventable medical errors receive the compensation they deserve.

About the Author

Mark Joye is the Head of the Litigation Department at the Joye Law Firm. A Board-Certified Trial Advocate with nearly 30 years of litigation experience, he currently serves on the Board of Governors for the American Association for Justice and is a past president of the South Carolina Association for Justice. In a recent trial, Joye headed a trial team that secured $17 million for a family killed in a tractor-trailer accident.

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