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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. 

An alarming discovery

In March 2016, the pathologist was found to be impaired at work. After completing an impaired physicians program, he was reinstated and began working in the lab again, diagnosing the conditions of VA patients again in October 2016. A year later, after suspicions and concerns of fellow employees, the doctor underwent a health assessment and was terminated.

All hands on deck

This incident prompted Arkansas senators and house members to condemn the physician in a joint statement that also called for the VA to carefully review his cases.

After dismissing the physician, the VA medical staff began a thorough review of every case the pathologist’s handled in his decade-plus of service at the facility. Since there are many of them — nearly 20,000 — the investigation could take months. A team of 30 pathologists have volunteered to review past cases.

Deadly serious consequences

Seven instances of medical misdiagnosis have been found, including one that resulted in the death of a local veteran. More than 5,000 clinic patients have died in the past dozen years. It is unknown how many of those deaths could have been avoided with a correct diagnosis. Most of potentially affected patients have already been notified by mail.

This disturbing case is another example of the importance of improving our veterans’ health care. Ensuring the health and well-being of our service members should always be the top priority.

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