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Pennsylvania veterans among wrongful deaths in VA care

According to a recent report, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has paid out over 1,000 wrongful death claims in the last decade, 36 of which involved Pennsylvania veterans.  

The average amount paid per wrongful death claim was $150,000. Examples of wrongful death incidents that occurred at VA facilities in Pennsylvania include a physician failing to report a case of lung cancer to a patient for 10 months, an outbreak of Legionnaires disease, failure to respond to a drug overdose, and failure to administer anticoagulation therapy after a gallbladder surgery.

A spokesperson for the VA said that all of the incidents are tragic, but the victims make up only a small fraction of those who seek assistance from the VA, which is about six million each year. She also stated that when a death occurs, the agency does a full investigation to determine what happened and prevent future similar incidents.  

However, independent analysts paint a far bleaker picture. They say that the 1,000 lawsuits represent only a small fraction of the veterans who have died because of malpractice by the VA.  

Many families never file claims because there are significant hurdles in place. Unlike general wrongful death claims, claims against the VA must first go through a lengthy administrative process before the victim’s family even has the right to file a lawsuit. Additionally, awards are limited to actual damages because punitive damage awards against the federal government are prohibited.

Congress has also recently begun scrutinizing the VA regarding the number of preventable deaths at VA facilities. The House Committee of Veterans Affairs has held recent hearings to investigate wrongful deaths, and will be holding another hearing shortly.

The Chairman of the House Committee said, “It’s not enough for VA to simply compensate the families of those who died. In order to provide real closure for those struck by these heartbreaking preventable deaths, the VA needs to hold fully accountable the employees who allowed patients to slip through the cracks.”

Source: Philly.com, “VA pays out $200 million for veterans’ wrongful deaths,” Aaron Glantz, April 3, 2014