Veterans Administration Hospitals: Appropriate Standard of Care?

Veterans’ groups and others are raising concerns about conditions in Veteran Administration (VA) hospitals. Official VA inspections have revealed unhealthy conditions like reused objects that can spread infection, inadequate cleaning, and vermin infestations. Inspectors have also found that staff members are not adequately supervised and there is a high rate of adverse effects from medication. In the Durham, North Carolina facility, the staff falsified reports to show that defibrillators—essential life-saving equipment—were routinely checked, when, in fact, the equipment was not adequately maintained.

The inspections have found even more serious violations in the way resident physicians are supervised. Inspectors had difficulty locating supervising physicians in four VA facilities who were supposed to be present to oversee residents and found many other irregularities. In Lexington, Kentucky, inspectors found that supervising physicians gave their computer passwords to resident physicians, so that the residents could cosign their own reports without supervision. Unsupervised resident physicians create a serious risk of malpractice, and the VA’s peer review identified 63 malpractice cases between 1997 and 2002 that were caused by a failure to supervise residents. There may have been many more.

VA facilities and practitioners have been found liable for malpractice for errors ranging from misdiagnosis to surgical and medication errors and inadequate care. It is more difficult to bring a lawsuit against a VA hospital under federal law than against an independent hospital, and the cases are tried before federal judges without a jury. In spite of this, several judgments for over $1 million have been entered in military malpractice cases in recent years. This indicates that federal judges found the VA malpractice had been very serious.

Does all of this mean that VA hospitals are giving a lower standard of care than other hospitals? The answer seems to be yes. A study of the VA program for cardiac care completed by an independent group in 2003 showed that heart patients treated in VA hospitals are more likely to die from heart attacks or in the 3 years following an attack than patients of the same age and physical condition treated in non-VA facilities. VA hospitals were also found to perform angioplasty or bypass surgery 50% as often as other hospitals. Those procedures can often extend a life for several years.

If you have been injured due to the negligence of a doctor or other medical personnel at a VA hospital, you should seek the advice of an attorney. To find an experienced VA malpractice attorney, post your case to the free Case Evaluation Form.

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