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Veterans’ Medical Malpractice Claims Increasing

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Since 2003, the U.S. Government has paid over $845 million in settlements and judgments to veterans victimized by medical malpractice at Veterans Administration (VA) hospitals nationwide.  According to a recent analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, these payments reached an all time high of $98 million in 2012.  The increase in liability payments has coincided with the influx of military personnel returning to the states from active duty.

Veterans who are injured by poor medical care at VA hospitals do not have an opportunity to have their grievances decided by a jury in state court.  Cases such as these are controlled by the procedures dictated by the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA).  First, the claimant must file a notice of claim to the appropriate governmental entity (Form 95).  The government then has six (6) months to respond by either agreeing to negotiate a resolution (financial settlement) of the claim or to deny it.  Claimants who are unable to resolve their cases then have up to eighteen (18) months to file a lawsuit under the FTCA in federal court.  The cases are defended by U.S. Attorney’s office and are decided by a federal judge.  A veteran may have to wait years from the date of the malpractice injury for his/her claim to be resolved under this process.  Any eventual payment is made by the U.S. Treasury.

The apparent increase in veteran malpractice claims has caught the attention of certain politicians:

Some members of Congress and government watchdogs say the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs isn’t doing enough to prevent medical errors.  They say the agency’s culture lacks accountability and incentives to improve.

 “That’s unacceptable,” said Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., a licensed physician. “It’s we the taxpayers that are actually paying out the claims.  And where’s the accountability.”  Critics decry the VA practice of awarding bonuses to some doctors and administrators even if they have been implicated in medical mistakes

“The VA likes to say they’re accountable, but I don’t believe the word even exists in the VA dictionary,” said House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, a Florida Republican.

According to a survey published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the VA pays plaintiffs/claimants in 25% of cases (compared to private sector health systems, which pay 20% of plaintiffs).

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