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A brief history of the VA and its many medical scandals

One part of the federal government that typically gets overlooked in San Antonio history classes is the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. But the story of the agency is a fascinating one; the VA’s origins can be traced back to 1789 when the brand new American government passed legislation creating pensions for disabled Revolutionary War veterans.

Today, there are more than 18 million vets, half of whom are served by the VA at one of 1,062 outpatient sites and 172 VA Medical Centers. Unfortunately, the VA’s record of service has too often been marred by substandard care and negligence that resulted in medical malpractice.

Marine continues to fight VA over medical malpractice

Regular readers of our San Antonio legal blog might remember that back in July we shared the story of a veteran struggling with pain and the VA. Marine vet Brian Tully was misdiagnosed by a doctor at a VA hospital, but the Department of Veterans Affairs has rejected his medical malpractice claim, though it acknowledges that the physician made mistakes.

The VA says it can legally reject the vet’s malpractice claim because the doctor he saw was an independent contractor and not a VA physician. A loophole in the law allows the federal agency to dodge responsibility for a misdiagnosis that has resulted in permanent injury and debilitating pain for a man who honorably served his country.

The difference between medical malpractice and medical battery

When a patient suffers from an injury due to surgery, many questions arise. Military clinicians and medical professionals are responsible for making important health decisions, and equally responsible to receiving proper consent. Every patient has rights, and they may need to file a legal claim.

Who is to blame for a medical error: doctor or machine?

Because medical errors are so common – a 2016 study said about 250,000 Americans are killed each year by medical errors – researchers have developed technologies to help reduce human mistakes. A hospital in England has developed an artificial intelligence system that examines chest scans to identify heart-attack risks. The results apparently indicate that the AI system is outperforming cardiologists.

Robot-assisted surgeries are already taking place, of course. All of this prompts the question recently examined by news site Quartz: “Who is to blame when a machine botches your surgery?” When the surgical error is by a robot or an algorithm, who is to blame for the damage to the patient?

Medical malpractice lawsuit blames doctor, others for his suicide

If untreated, his schizophrenia brought on vivid hallucinations. But the 55-year-old man was able to stave off the frightening figments of his imagination with daily doses of the powerful anti-psychotic medication Clozapine.

For more than a decade, Clozapine helped him live free of the hallucinations and build a life with his siblings. But when the county’s mental health service canceled his medication on Christmas Eve of 2014, events were put into motion that eventually culminated in his fiery suicide a few months later, a medical malpractice lawsuit alleges.

Types of injuries resulting from military medical malpractice

There are many different types of medical negligence, and each are unique to itself. Given the complex nature of the practice of medicine, it is no wonder that even the slightest mistake can have life-changing effects on patients.

Medical negligence takes many forms, including in the military. There is the same standard for physicians and nurses at a military installation as their civilian counterparts. But a medical claim against military providers goes through federal court and is subject to specific rules.

Court: Missed diagnosis resulted in young woman’s death

The 23-year-old woman who suffered from lupus showed up at the emergency room with shortness of breath and neurological symptoms that included facial numbness and slurred speech. The symptoms necessitated that a routine blood test (a CBC and a Chem-7 test) be performed.

The test was not performed, however, and the woman’s blood disorder (thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura) was not detected. The disorder, often referred to as TPP, can be fatal if not treated. The woman was discharged from the hospital without a diagnosis or treatment. She returned to the facility 32 hours later, but it “it was too late to save her life,” a medical malpractice attorney argued in court.

Court: Vet’s widow waited too long to file medical malpractice claim

Her husband was a Navy veteran who died from kidney disease after a Veterans Affairs hospital delayed treatment. Two weeks after his death, his widow received a letter from the VA addressed to her husband, urging him to get immediate care.

She cannot sue for medical malpractice, however, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has decided. She waited too long to file a malpractice claim after the 2009 death of her husband.

Impaired VA physician leads to misdiagnoses, including one death

An impaired pathologist has officials scrambling to uncover the extent of his mistakes. At least one person has died because of a misdiagnosis.

The physician at the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks in Fayetteville, Arkansas, was intoxicated while on duty in 2016. He was removed from his job for a time but returned to work a few months later before getting caught again last year. That doctor is now out of a job and medical staff are currently investigating to assess how many patients he misdiagnosed. 

Court awards damages after finding VA liable in vet’s suicide

Regular readers of our San Antonio legal blog know that we frequently focus on our nation’s veterans and the medical care that they receive. You might have heard of a case in which a federal judge early this year found the Veterans Health Administration liable for the tragic suicide of an Iraq war veteran.

U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson recently awarded more than $480,000 to the vet’s two children and his father. The family charged the VA with negligence in the Marine veteran's care and said the agency directly contributed to the death of 28-year-old Cpl. William Draughon.

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