Report: VA Has Paid Out Over $200M for Wrongful Deaths Since '01

Friday, 04 Apr 2014 07:29 PM

By Cathy Burke

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The VA paid more than $200 million to nearly 1,000 families for the wrongful deaths of troubled or ailing veterans who committed suicide or were medically mismanaged or misdiagnosed in the decade after 9/11, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting.

The CIR report, based on data from the Veterans Administration, showed the median payment was $150,000.

“It wasn’t about the money, I just thought somebody should be held accountable,” 86-year-old Doris Street said of the $135,000 settlement she got for the 2008 death of her brother Carl Glaze, 84.

The WWII vet was paralyzed from the neck down after he fell two days after admission to a VA nursing home in Grand Island, Neb.; he died nine days later.

“I had asked them not to leave him alone, and then they left him in the bathroom,” she said. “We all get upset when these things happen.”

The startling report comes as the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs continues its investigation of preventable deaths at VA facilities; its next hearing is set for Wednesday.

In September, the lawmakers examined patient deaths at VA hospitals in Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Dallas and Jackson, Miss. -- and blasted the agency for not only failing to discipline officials responsible, but for paying them bonuses.

The report cited one example in which VA regional director Michael Moreland got an almost $63,000 bonus after an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease at a Pittsburgh hospital killed six vets and sickened 21 others. Moreland later retired.

“It’s not enough for VA to simply compensate the families of those who died,” said Florida Republican Rep. Jeff Miller, the committee chairman.

“In order to provide real closure for those struck by these heartbreaking preventable deaths, VA needs to hold fully accountable the employees who allowed patients to slip through the cracks.”

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki testified at a budget hearing March 13 that 6,000 VA employees had been “involuntarily removed” over the past two years, including six senior managers, the report said.

But the money already paid out to grieving families probably only represents a small percentage of vets who died because of malpractice by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the report said.

“The VA fights every case tooth and nail and so cases drag on for years,” said Massachusetts lawyer Cristobal Bonifaz, who won a $350,000 settlement for the parents of Marine Lance Cpl. Jeffrey Lucey, who hanged himself after being turned away from psychiatric care at the VA in Northampton, Mass.

Agency spokeswoman Victoria Dillon said in a written statement that while “any adverse incident for a veteran within our care is one too many,” the wrongful deaths identified in the report represented a small fraction of the more than 6 million veterans who seek care every year.

She said the agency is “committed to continuous improvement," and that when a death occurs, “we conduct a thorough review to understand what happened, prevent similar incidents in the future, and share lessons learned across the system."

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