The Veterans Affairs Health Administration is America’s largest integrated healthcare system, with close to 1,300 healthcare facilities—including 170 medical centers—that serve 9 million enrolled veterans each year. Yet, negligence and malpractice committed on behalf of the VA is a long-standing issue that has recently gained national attention. In fact, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study released at the end of 2017 investigated five random VA medical centers to find that VA officials had failed to appropriately review eight of nine doctors that should have been reported for medical malpractice—and more than half of all patient complaints about VA hospitals went largely ignored by the Administration.
“We found that all five [hospitals] lacked at least some documentation of the reviews they told us they conducted, and in some cases, the required reviews were not conducted at all,” investigators said about the GAO review. Additionally, a recent USA Today investigation documented at least 126 cases in which medical providers committed serious offenses for which they should have been fired, yet the VA actually agreed to omit such information from their records, allowed them to resign, and in many cases, even provided neutral or positive references to prospective employers. In one recent blog, I specifically discussed the checkered past of one neurosurgeon who was hired by the VA even after including in his application information on malpractice suits and a previous license revocation.
As public awareness of such conditions has mounted, more than two dozen members of Congress wrote to the Dept. of Veteran Affairs demanding swift action in dealing with these dangerous and potentially lethal medical providers. In the letter, these members of Congress requested information on the actions that the VA is taking to review and report those medical providers who have fallen below the standard of care. In some instances, it is believed that the VA knowingly hired medical providers who had been terminated in their previous job for failing to meet such a standard, to which Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.) commented, “For the VA to be illegally hiring doctors who failed to meet that standard in their previous jobs is very troubling and absolutely unacceptable.”
Additionally on December 18, 2017, more than 30 members of the U.S. House of Representatives continued the commentary with letters to the VA stating, “The hiring of doctors who have had their medical licenses revoked in any state is already prohibited, and clinical hires must be cleared through professional standards boards . . . However, it appears the laws and regulations establishing that prohibition are not being followed by VA medical facilities.”
While such lax attitudes in the face of misconduct, licensing issues and malpractice accusations are disturbing, it’s one potential cause for all of this that’s most worrisome—could it be that the VA in recent years has become a magnet for troubled doctors and surgeons because taxpayer money not only pays their salaries, but also pays out on malpractice claims when they make mistakes? We as taxpayers deserve better fiscal responsibility, and the men and women who have served and protected our nation certainly deserve far better medical care.
Both an Emory School of Law graduate and MBA graduate of Goizueta Business School at Emory, Chris Nace focuses his practice on areas of medical malpractice, drug and product liability, motor vehicle accidents, wrongful death, employment discrimination and other negligence and personal injury matters.