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I recently had the opportunity to be interviewed by the news team at WHIO, our local CBS affiliate. Over a period of several months, reporters from WHIO worked with reporters from the Dayton Daily News to investigate medical malpractice at hospitals administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs. We spoke on camera for nearly an hour and discussed the history of VA malpractice. I shared with them my experience in representing victims of VA malpractice and my thoughts about the future of VA malpractice cases. One of the things I pointed out was that the increasing number of young veterans needing medical care is likely to rise as the veterans return home from Iraq and Afghanistan. With increasing numbers of patients, the numbers of malpractice claims are also likely to rise. The average payout will also probably increase, since the law calculates monetary damages based, in part, on how long the victim of malpractice is likely to live.
According to statistics reported in the Dayton Daily News, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has paid over $840 million to settle malpractice claims since 2003. Payouts in 2012, for example, totaled $98 million. Although this seems like a lot of money, all of the medical malpractice payouts total less than 1/10th of one percent of the VA budget and do not come close to fairly compensating of the victims of VA malpractice. All of these claims were against the VA, not the individual doctors who committed the medical mistake. Under federal law, injured victims of malpractice may not bring a lawsuit against the doctor who harmed them. In addition, mistakes made by a doctor practicing at a VA hospital are not even reported to state medical boards. One shocking truth pointed out is that doctors who commit malpractice are rarely disciplined for their conduct. In fact, many are actually promoted and given bonuses. Several examples exist, including the story of a radiologist who failed to read mammograms correctly, but still received a bonus payout of $8,216. There was also the example of a VA hospital administrator in Pittsburgh who oversaw an unsanitary hospital during a legionnaires' disease outbreak that killed 5 veterans and made 21 others ill. He received over $62,000 in bonuses for his work that year.
It is easy to quote statistics and dollar figures but it is important to remember that each of these examples represents damage done to a veteran, through no fault of their own. The DDN article gives many tragic examples of veterans who suffered due to medical malpractice at the VA hospitals. Army veteran Thaddeus Raysor had x-ray of his lungs in 2006, 2007 and 2008. Each one showed a lesion on his left lung, but the doctors at the VA hospital failed to tell Raysor and took no action. By 2009, the mass had grown to 9.5 centimeters and spread to both lungs. Raysor died as a result of this missed cancer diagnosis and his family was awarded $875,000 to try and compensate them for the loss of their beloved family member. Because this was a VA case, none of the doctors who negligently missed this diagnosis were ever held accountable for this loss. I urge you to read the Dayton Daily News article in its entirety for more examples of the medical malpractice at hospitals administered by the VA. As home to a large VA hospital, Dayton residents should be particularly aware of the need to be vigilant about the care and treatment of their loved ones.
I was honored to be asked to contribute to such an important story. Veterans have sacrificed for our country and deserve the best medical care. If you or a family member has been harmed by a mistake made at the VA hospital, please give us a call. I will be happy to review your case for free to see if there is anything we can do to help.