In the last decade, Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals have paid over $200 million to resolve 1,000 lawsuits involving malpractice. If you or your family member is a veteran who received poor medical care or suffered an injury at the hands of a negligent doctor, you may be entitled to compensation.
UPDATE: Long Wait-Times At VA Hospitals Haven’t Improved
April 14, 2015 — An investigation has found that wait times are not improving at VA hospitals, especially those located in the South. Meanwhile, a 60 year-old Navy veteran has been awarded $21 million after he received inadequate care that left him trapped in his body with “locked-in syndrome.” Click here to read more.
January 29, 2015 — The family of a man who died of melanoma has been awarded $900,000 by the VA hospital to settle allegations of malpractice due to treatment delays. VA Puget Sound has paid out $15 million since 2001 for 16 wrongful deaths and 33 major injuries that were preventable. Click here to read more.
October 14, 2014 — A federal judge has awarded $725,000 to a 75 year-old veteran who was permanently paralyzed during a botched surgery at a Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital in Arkansas. Click here to read more.
Examples of VA Hospital Malpractice Claims
- Delayed care resulting in worse diagnosis or death
- Wrong diagnosis of a disease or cancer
- Failure to diagnose or treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Surgical errors (such as leaving a foreign object inside a patient)
- Infection from non-sterile equipment, lack of bed-sheets
- Inadequate treatment of a disease
- Medication errors
- Unneeded medical procedures resulting in injury
“Secret Wait List” Linked to Veteran Deaths
April 2014 — At least 40 American veterans died while waiting for treatment at the Phoenix VA hospital. According to CNN, they were placed on a “secret wait list” to avoid scrutiny by officials in Washington.
A former doctor with over two decades of experience at the hospital told CNN that the hospital shredded evidence to hide the fact that 1,400-1,600 veterans waited months or years before getting an appointment. Nationally, VA hospitals are supposed to provide care within 14-30 days.
Investigators found over 7,000 veterans on backlog lists at just a few hospitals, including some who died while frantically seeking appointments.
Slipped Through the Cracks
In one example, 71 year-old Navy veteran Thomas Breen visited the Phoenix VA hospital in September 2013 complaining of blood in his urine. Breen had a history of cancer, and the emergency physician recommended an “urgent” appointment with a urologist within the week.
Breen was sent home. Over the next few months, his family members called repeatedly to request an appointment. By the time they got an appointment in December, Breen was already dead from stage-4 bladder cancer.
Filing a VA Hospital Malpractice Lawsuit
Lawsuits against a VA hospital are not like traditional medical malpractice claims. You cannot directly sue the hospital — instead, you must file an administrative claim and follow procedures of the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA).
Do I Need a Lawyer?
At this point, it is a good idea to talk to an attorney. You can file a claim on your own, but if you are not familiar with the process, you could lose your legal rights. An experienced attorney will help you gather evidence, present it persuasively, work with the VA to resolve your claim, and answer any questions you might have along the way.
The first step is filing a Standard Form 95, which is available at government offices. The form must be filed with the correct VA office. You must properly state the nature of your claim and provide a “sum certain.”
What is a Sum Certain?
The sum certain is a complete accounting of the financial compensation you are seeking for your injury, such as:
- Itemized list of medical expenses
- An estimate of your future expected medical costs
- Physician statement(s)
- Medical examination report (mental or physical) from the VA
- Employer statement about lost income or time off work
After You File a Form 95
The VA has six months (or more, in some cases) to investigate and respond to your Form 95. They can accept, reject, settle, or do nothing on your claim.
What Happens If My Claim is Rejected?
An administrative claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) does not entitle you to a jury trial. Instead, a judge will review your case and make a decision. If the judge rejects your claim or it is not resolved administratively within six months (or more), you can file a lawsuit in federal court — but only if you are still within the statute of limitations. This is a major reason why it is essential to file your claim as soon as possible.
What is the Time Limit?
You have two (2) years to file a lawsuit from the date you were injured and knew (or should have known) the cause of your injury. After this deadline passes, your legal options are limited and your claim could be dismissed.
You might have an easier time with a Section 1151 claim for disability compensation. In some cases, veterans are awarded a settlement under the FTCA and disability compensation. Your attorney may recommend filing both of these claims, depending on your injury.