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$5 million in damages in VA medical malpractice

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs uses the words of Abraham Lincoln in its pledge to care for those “who shall have borne the battle” and for their spouses and children. Unfortunately, sometimes the VA falls short of its mission.

A federal judge recently awarded more than $5 million in a medical malpractice lawsuit to the family of a veteran who died after being released from a VA hospital.

The lawsuit was heard far from us in San Antonio: the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. The legal claim was filed by the veteran’s widow, who argued that the federal government had been negligent in its treatment of her husband – which sparked his suicide after his discharge from a VA hospital.

According to the lawsuit, the vet went to the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Marion, Illinois, and asked to speak with someone. The clinical care coordinator there determined that the veteran “at high risk for suicide,” a news article explained.

The coordinator arranged for the man to be taken to the ER. He was seen there and diagnosed with an adjustment disorder, generalized anxiety and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Afterwards he was transferred to a VA hospital in St. Louis, where he was examined by a psychiatrist.

The doctor apparently decided the vet didn’t have suicidal tendencies and had him discharged. Two days later, the veteran committed suicide by hanging.

In his ruling, the judge wrote that the psychiatrist “did not investigate or even prepare the decedent’s family for his return home or investigate whether his patient’s greatest fear, and precipitating cause of his suicidal plans, was rationally based.”

As we have stated in this space many times, no award in a medical malpractice lawsuit makes up for the loss of a loved one. The awards serve as a form of justice, however, as negligence is punished and other doctors and hospitals take notice and provide a standard of care our nation’s veterans deserve.

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