Department of Veterans Affairs Admits Errors, Denies Malpractice Claims

January 16, 2015 | Crandall & Pera Law
Department of Veterans Affairs Admits Errors, Denies Malpractice Claims

Ohio and Kentucky have a number of V.A. facilities, including hospitals and rehabilitation centers. In general, the V.A. has come under a lot of scrutiny in the last few years as more and more of our service men and women come home with the classic signs of PTSD. But not every veteran has mental health concerns to be addressed; in some cases, the problem is much easier to see.

Back in 2008, the staff at the V.A.’s Alvin C. York Medical Center in Murfreesboro discovered blood in the tubing of water system used for irrigation during colonoscopies. An investigation by the hospital determined that a required valve was missing during procedures performed that day, and that the tubing had not been disinfected or discarded per the manufacturer’s instructions.

Investigators later found that the original valve had been replaced by one supposed to be used during the cleaning process. The new valve was not the one-way design that prevented the backflow of bodily fluids into the tubing. A review was unable to determine when the switch occurred, and the V.A. was ordered to notify veterans who had undergone colonoscopies dating back to the installation of the equipment in 2003.

A larger investigation found that sixteen other V.A. facilities reported non-compliance with cleaning guidelines for colonoscopy machines, but determined that the risk of infection was minimal and did not send warning letters to veterans.

The Murfreesboro V.A., meanwhile, sent all 6,387 veterans letters informing them of the problem, and offered precautionary blood tests. It was later reported that 92 of the veterans tested positive for viral infections- 71 for hepatitis C, 13 for hepatitis B, and 8 for HIV.

The V.A. released a statement saying, “It is unacceptable that Veterans were exposed to harm at some V.A. facilities. When this came to light in 2009, V.A. undertook a comprehensive program that included policy implementation of new policy, standard operating procedures and additional individual training to ensure that reusable medical equipment was reprocessed properly and issues like this never happen again.”

NBC News obtained records through the Freedom of Information Act showing that 76 veterans filed malpractice claims against the V.A. as a result of the problem, including 21 who eventually tested positive for infections. Others claimed psychological harm from the stress of knowing that they were at risk. Despite the admission of guilt, however, the V.A denied most claims. In fact, the V.A. paid only 453 malpractice claims nationwide out of 1,600 filed in 2013.

The veterans affected are understandably baffled. An attorney who represented 40 veterans who filed claims said, ”After sending a letter stating that they had done something wrong and... exposed them to contaminants, they send a letter out after receiving the claims that they did nothing wrong... That makes no sense.”

All 40 claims were denied.

Find out more about your rights

In difficult cases like this, it’s important to have experienced legal counsel by your side. Crandall & Pera Law may be able to help you if you were affected or infected by a treatment at a V.A. facility in Ohio or Kentucky. Please contact us for a free consultation at one of our office locations.