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Medical practice issues not uncommon with VA care

Veterans make up a substantial portion of Hawaii's population, with at least one in 10 residents having previously served in some branch of the military, and that number continues to grow. Many of these veterans rely on the Department of Veteran's Affairs for their ongoing medical care, and a recent investigation discovered that care may be lacking.

Whistle-blower complaints prompted a recent investigation of the nationwide system that uncovered some alarming figures. It concluded that more than 1,000 premature deaths over the past 10 years may have been the result of incompetent medical care provided by a VA physician or facility. During that time, the VA has paid almost $1 billion to veterans and their families for incidents of medical malpractice. A congressional report released last month cited incompetence and layers of red tape as the probable causes in at least a portion of these incidents.

In one case, a man visiting a VA medical center for a simple tooth extraction suffered an incapacitating stroke after the doctor failed to stop the procedure after the patient experienced several drops in blood pressure. In another case, a veteran who had been diagnosed with a psychiatric illness due to his military service was confined in one of the VA's mental health facility for eight full years without a psychiatric evaluation.

The Office of Special Counsel recently sent a letter to President Obama going into detail about the problems in the system that led to these medical failures, including incompetent care and very long waiting periods. It also alleged that the VA did not respond to complaints about the problem in a timely manner.

Those who have lost loved ones to medical malpractice at a VA facility or who have been injured may be able to pursue compensation via legal proceedings. Patients or their families must file a claim and possibly pursue a lawsuit under the Federal Torts Claims Act. Seeking legal counsel can help get through the government maze during the process.

Source: Medstak, "VA Medical Malpractice Affects Hundreds of Vets," Whitney Taylor, July 1, 2014  

Honolulu Civil Beat, "Abercrombie: 10 Percent Of Hawaii Residents Are Veterans," Chad Blair, Feb. 4, 2014

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