VETERAN’S NEWS From the Internet
Gathered by Bob Kinsler, SSG (ret), US Army, DAV, VFW Dept. of Oklahoma, PRO/Editor
The number of legal settlements made by the Department of Veterans Affairs has more than tripled over the past five years largely due to a spike in medical malpractice cases and bungled construction projects, the Daily News has learned.
The yearly total payments skyrocketed to $338 million in 2015 from $98 million in 2011, according to Treasury Department data obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request.
The cases include multiple examples of blown diagnosis, botched procedures and substandard care, records show.
“After nearly a decade, major reform at the Department of Veterans Affairs is long overdue,” said Daniel Epstein, executive director of the Washington-based group Cause of Action, a government watchdog group.
Among the larger payouts are:
* An army veteran who died from internal bleeding in Cleveland after complications from a routine gallbladder removal surgery.
* A Gulf War tanker in Atlanta suffering from serious depression who suffocated to death following an electro shock therapy session that went awry.
* And a Vietnam veteran in St. Petersburg, Fla. who died from colon cancer after his doctor ignored red flags on an annual medical test for three years.
These cases are some of the deadly medical mishaps that resulted in a large part of the $848 million in payouts doled out by the VA over the past five years.
Veteran advocates say that reflects years of substandard care at the 152 federal hospitals at a time when additional troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan returned from combat tours.
Critics contend the federal government has done little to improve treatment and prevent new cases.
VA officials downplayed the costly spike in litigation, noting the number of payouts in fiscal year 2013 represents less than 1% of total number of patients treated each year.
But the agency did not respond to multiple requests seeking comment regarding the latest stats.
All the tort claims are carefully investigated and action is taken if necessary, said VA deputy director for media relations Walinda (Linda) West.
“When an adverse event arises, [Veterans Health Administration] facility leadership may refer the case for a peer review for quality management, conduct a Root Cause Analysis review, perform a fact-finding investigation, or initiate an Administrative Investigative Board,” she said.
The department cared for 6.6 million veterans in fiscal year 2014, a 56% jump from fiscal year 2001,
That’s a pattern in many of the big payouts, critics say.
“The failures and lapses in care that led to these judgments are not the result of a lack of money or resources,” said Rep. Jeff Miller, a Florida Republican and chairman of the House Veterans Committee. “Rather they stem from VA’s long and well documented history of refusing to seriously hold accountable those who can’t or won’t do their jobs.”
The VA’s budget has nearly quadrupled over the past 15 years, increasing 73% in the last seven years alone, he said.
The VA has tried to keep the settlement data private.
In January, the department rejected a request filed by the Daily News seeking individual case amounts and lawyer information, arguing the records were exempt from disclosure due to an “unwarranted invasion of personal policy.”
“Any potential general public interest in the agency’s conduct of its business in resolving claims is outweighed by privacy interest of those who believe they have been individually injured by the VA and may have received monetary settlements which they would not want to be publicly disclosed,” a department lawyer wrote.
But the Treasury Department. had no such qualms releasing the data.
That federal department covers payouts against the VA, and other federal agencies, via its so-called “judgement fund.”
Critics of the VA say the setup allows the VA from keeping better tabs of the payouts issued after mess ups.
The settlements aren’t just tied to medical mishaps. The VA paid out more than $200 million to the contractor of the maligned Orlando VA Medical Center.
VA officials repeatedly blamed lengthy delays on the 1.2 million-square-foot facility on the contractor, Brasfield & Gorrie.
But less than a year after the project was finally finished, the VA quietly agreed to pay the Birmingham, Ala.-based firm a series of eight multi-million dollar settlements, totaling some of the largest payouts issued in years, records show.
The contractor argued that VA officials lied about how much it would actually cost to build the 134-bed hospital. That deceitfulness forced the firm to pay its subcontractors out of pocket to finish the promised work.
“It’s really unfortunate for one agency to have so much money and responsibility to be really rotten to the core,” Brasfield & Gorrie lawyer Larry Schor said. “It’s a shame for the taxpayers of the United States.”
By the way, if you want to complain, add your support, or have something you want added to this article contact me at 580-271-0897 or Email me at BobKinsler@aol.com. This is the veterans’ news and if you have something let me know, please.