Over the past 10 years the United States Department of Veterans Affairs has paid about $845 million in medical malpractice cases. During this same period this agency has faced scrutiny for giving bonuses to the medical professionals who had provided or oversaw substandard care. Over the 10 years 4,426 veterans and their family members were offered settlements totaling over $800 million. In 2012, the payouts reached a high point with 454 financial settlements, with awards adding up to $98.3 million.
The injuries that resulted from these cases were significant. For example, one veteran went in to have a tooth extracted and is now paralyzed and not able to talk. Another veteran died from cancer after doctors failed to diagnose it from multiple x-rays over a three year period. In another case, a veteran who went in for a routine biopsy and bled to death and was not check on for hours.
Officials for the VA have pointed out that they manage one of the largest medical networks, making the number of medical malpractice claims relatively low compared to other networks. In 2012, there were more than 6.3 million veterans treated by the VA and there were only 1,544 medical malpractice claims filed. Additionally, the VA pays out in about 25 percent of claims while the private sectors healthcare systems pay out about 20 percent.
However, it appears that substandard care by doctors, nurses, and administers is not being punished as they will routinely receive pay raises and transfers during the same year that they were found to have provided substandard care. Bones and awards have been given to medical providers without this extra pay being linked to their performances. Bonuses have been given to:
- A radiologist who did not competently read mammograms.
- A surgeon who was suspended for two weeks without pay after leaving a surgery early.
- A physician who was practicing with a license that had expired for three months.
- A physician who refused to see patients in the emergency room in the order in which they were given to him, leaving some of these patients waiting for as longer than six hours.
These doctors and administrators are also not named in any malpractice lawsuits and the money used to pay the claims does not come out of the VA budget. They are often not even disciplined by removing them from their position. They are just moved to another hospital. They do not feel any impact from these settlements.
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