New Allegation Of Patient Deaths At Miami VA « CBS Miami

 

ore medical malpractice at the Miami

More medical malpractice at the Miami

MIAMI (CBSMiami) — In February, a cardiovascular surgeon at the Miami VA hospital complained to one of his superiors that “patients had died” because a piece of equipment that might have saved their lives was left in a Broward warehouse, according to an email obtained by CBS4 News.

The February 27 email was sent by Dr. Tomer Karas to the VA’s chief of surgery Dr. Seth Spector. In the email, Karas complained about a device known as the TandemHeart – which keeps blood following during certain sensitive procedures.

“It is my understanding that the TandemHeart has never been used here because of a nursing administration issue,” Karas wrote. “I am not clear on what the issue is but I believe it has to do with concerns over competency and training.”

In his email to Spector, Karas went on to relay a conversation he had with a VA cardiologist, Dr. Carlos Alfonso.

“In discussions with Dr. Alfonso,” Karas wrote, “I understand that patients have died in our cath lab due to inability to offer a higher level of support … even while the TandemHeart was physically available.”

Karas then added: “I am told the TandemHeart currently resides in a warehouse in Broward.”

The Karas email does not state how many patients may have died or when those deaths occurred.

Karas made clear he was writing the email because he wanted the hospital to purchase a similar piece of equipment. “But I wouldn’t want to support acquiring this device if there is any chance it would have the same fate as the Tandem Heart,” he concluded.

Spector, the chief of surgery responded the next day by simply writing: “I will address”

Reached by phone, Karas acknowledged writing the email but said VA policy prevented him from speaking without the approval of his superiors.

The VA’s public affairs office then refused to allow Karas to answer any questions. They also refused the station’s request to speak to doctors Spector and Alfonso.

CBS4 News requested interviews with the hospital’s chief administrator, Paul Russo, and its chief of staff, Dr. Vincent DeGennaro – those requests were denied as well.

Shane Suzuki, a public affairs officer for the VA, responded to CBS4 News in an email. He said the allegations contained in the email were being investigated.

“The physician quoted in the email has admitted that he was incorrect in his assertion that any patients have died,” Suzuki wrote. “There have been zero deaths related to the TandemHeart equipment.”

Asked to clarify which physician in the email he was referring to – Karas or Alfonso – Suzuki refused to say.

CBS4 News then asked to speak to the physician who supposedly recanted his statement about patient deaths, but Suzuki refused that request as well.

Suzuki did acknowledge that “training on the equipment was approved three weeks ago to ensure staff competency before using the machine for appropriate elective procedures.”

Suzuki refused to say why training was only taking place now, since the TandemHeart had actually been purchased in 2012.

The allegation of possible patient deaths in Miami comes as the VA is reeling from a nationwide scandal over waiting lists and patient care.

“We at VA are committed to consistently providing our veterans the high quality care, timely benefits and safe facilities necessary to improve their health and well-being,” VA Secretary Eric Shinseki told members of Congress last week. “Any allegations about patient care or employee misconduct are taken seriously.”

via New Allegation Of Patient Deaths At Miami VA « CBS Miami.

Top Miami VA doctor lost medical license in N.Y. – Modern Healthcare

Veterans Affairs doctor's licensed suspended in New York

Veterans Affairs doctor’s licensed suspended in New York

A top physician for the Miami Veterans Affairs healthcare system surrendered his medical license in New York and faced sanctions in Florida one year before he was tapped for his current position. The 2010 sanctions resulted from the case of a patient with a torn large intestine, who died under the care of Dr. Vincent A. DeGennaro, at a Fort Lauderdale hospital.

The Miami Herald reported that a 2008 complaint filed with the Florida Board of Medicine by Florida’s department of health alleges that DeGennaro misinterpreted his patient’s x-rays and failed to do proper follow up, resulting in the patient’s 2003 death.

DeGennaro, 68, did not answer a phone listed for his home in Pompano Beach Saturday. A recorded greeting said messages would not be returned.

It was not immediately clear why the complaint was filed so many years after the incident.

A spokesman for the Miami VA told the Herald in a statement that DeGennaro’s selection in 2011 as the senior executive physician for the Miami VA healthcare syst

VA doctor disciplined for negligent medical care by the Florida Medical Board

VA doctor disciplined for negligent medical care by the Florida Medical Board

em had been approved by the Veterans Affairs office in Washington, D.C. DeGennaro oversees dozens of doctors at one Miami hospital and several community clinics. He still performs surgeries and sees patients.

In 2010 DeGennaro surrendered his medical license in New York in an agreement stemming from the 2003 case. He agreed never to reapply for a physician’s license or again practice medicine in the state. DeGennaro could have had his license also suspended in Florida, but instead the Board of Medicine censured him and fined him $5,000, as well as charging him legal costs and 50 hours of community service.

DeGennaro’s case comes as the nation has increasingly scrutinized the Veterans Administration’s healthcare system for extensive delays and other problems in Florida and nationwide.

DegenDegennaro Florida Medical Board Disciplinary Ordernaro Fla  Degennaro NY Medical Board Suspension Order

via Top Miami VA doctor lost medical license in N.Y. – Modern Healthcare.

4 medical malpractice suits against Coatesville VA clinic settled for $1M

4 medical malpractice cases settled against the Coatesville VA Medical center for more than $1,000,000

4 medical malpractice cases settled against the Coatesville VA Medical center for more than $1,000,000

4 medical malpractice suits against Coatesville VA clinic settled for $1M.

COATESVILLE — Four veterans died due to medical malpractice at the Coatesville Veterans Affairs Medical Clinic, leading to more than $1 million in settlements with the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs, according to reports from The Center for Investigative Reporting.

According to the report, the government agency paid nearly $1.4 million to four families in wrongful death cases following treatment at the Coatesville facility.

Those malpractice cases include:

• Failure to monitor a patient; filed on June 26, 2003 and closed on Jan. 1, 2005 for $100,000.

• The improper management of a psychiatric patient; filed on Oct. 3, 2005, and closed on Feb. 2, 2008, for $495,578.

• A wrongful diagnosis or misdiagnosis of a patient; filed on April 16, 2010, and closed on Aug. 19, 2011, for $300,000.

• Failure to monitor a patient; filed on April 23, 2010, and closed on Dec. 1, 2011, for $500,000.

The lawsuits filed against the Coatesville facility are just four out of a reported 1,000 wrongful death cases filed against Veterans Affairs facilities nationwide and resulting in $200 million in settlements.

Widow blames VA for husband’s death – WSMV Channel 4

A veteran’s widow is blaming the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Nashville for her husband’s death. She has filed a medical malpractice claim asking for $2.5 million.

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Channel 4 I-Team

The Channel 4 I-team investigates corruption, misuse of taxpayer dollars, criminal activities, scams and dangers to the Middle Tennessee region.More >>

For more than a year now, the Channel 4 I-Team has been investigating the backlog at the local VA and the trouble veterans have had trying to get the healthcare they earned by serving our country.

Terry Jones was one of those veterans. He told us this past summer those delays could cost him his life. Now, his widow said the VA wasn’t there for her husband when he needed them the most.

“The VA should take responsibility,” Ramona Jones said. “They’re supposed to take care of their soldiers when they get sick.”

But that’s something Ramona and Terry Jones told the I-Team the VA in Nashville failed to do.

We interviewed Terry Jones back in July. Just talking about the cancer ravaging his body brought the Marine veteran to tears. He lost his nose to cancer. On his birthday in 2013, he was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer.

Terry Jones said he believed the disease should have been caught earlier by the VA.

“As far as the nose cancer, they could have done more about it because I told the primary care they should have sent a swab to see what it is. They never did,” Terry Jones told the I-Team in July.

Terry Jones lost his fight last month. Now, his grieving widow wants the VA held accountable.

Ramona Jones said delays and lack of proper treatment cost her husband his life.

“We requested a radiation appointment, we never got it,” Ramona Jones said. “I think when you go to the doctor and he makes an MRI and he sees several different things is wrong with you; you expect that doctor to tell you everything, to lay it on the table, this and this and this is wrong and we need to take these actions. They never did.”

In October, Terry and Ramona Jones filed a medical malpractice claim against the VA Medical Center in Nashville, saying, “It is unacceptable that a veteran who served this country is put on a waiting list until tumors grow to a size where treatments are impossible.”

The I-Team asked the VA about that claim, but a spokesperson told us they “are prohibited from releasing information of a claim that is under investigation.”

Ramona Jones is now relying on donations to get by. She was not able to work when Terry Jones was sick because she was taking care of him. If you would like to help her, click here to learn more.

Ramona Jones said since her husband passed away, she is now also considering filing a wrongful death lawsuit against the VA Medical Center in Nashville.

via Widow blames VA for husband’s death – WSMV Channel 4.

Doctor says ‘sham peer review’ used to destroy his career after pointing out VA problems – Veterans – Stripes

Doctor says ‘sham peer review’ used to destroy his career after pointing out VA problems – Veterans – Stripes.

SALEM, Va. — For 24 years, Navy Cmdr. Jeff Hawker served his country, leaving active duty to continue treating his military brethren as a Department of Veterans Affairs doctor. After he started working at the Salem VA Medical Center, though, he said it took just a few months for officials at the medical center to oust him and to destroy his career after he reported dangerous medical practices.

“You serve and you come back and you run into the corruption and malpractice” of the VA , he said.

At a time when the VA is scrambling to hire doctors to make up for a critical shortfall, Hawker said he was the victim of a so-called “sham peer review,” a problem many say is widespread in the VA and little reported because the victims fear bringing attention to their negative reviews.

Hawker said vindictive local VA officials have effectively ended his career after he voiced serious concerns about patient safety at a busy Virginia hospital, including a doctor performing procedures Hawker said he wasn’t trained to do and life-threatening medical errors. Worse, Hawker said, veterans there are still at serious risk months after he reported the problems.

His allegations, passed through the office of Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., were enough to trigger a health care inspection by the VA Office of the Inspector General and an investigation by the Virginia Board of Medicine. Those inquiries are ongoing.

“We are working diligently on it,” Veterans Affairs IG spokeswoman Catherine Gromek said.

Investigators for the House Veterans Affairs Committee, whose chairman, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., has aggressively pursued cases of wrongdoing by VA officials, recently invited Hawker to meet with them to discuss his case.

Discrepancies noted

A Stars and Stripes review of documents related to Hawker’s case shows discrepancies in his treatment by the hospital.

Seven months after revelations of data falsification and secret wait lists revealed a nationwide crisis in veterans’ health care, most of the officials linked to the scandal are still on the payroll, and fresh reports of malfeasance continue to surface.

Miguel LaPuz, director of the Salem VA Medical Center, strongly denies Hawker’s claims of mistreatment and dangerous health care practices.

“Do we subscribe to making sure the veterans receive good care or excellent care?” he said. “Yes we do.”

Hawker, who has been unemployed since January, filed a whistleblower protection complaint with the Office of Special Counsel claiming wrongful termination and asking for resinstatement as a VA physician. He said he will wait for that process to play out before deciding whether to file a lawsuit.

The negative review has put “the scarlet letter on my chest,” said Hawker, 47.

In October, he had a moving truck rented to take his possessions to Las Vegas, where he thought he had a job waiting for him. At the last minute, he said he got a call from a hospital official saying there would be no job offer because of the Salem review. An earlier offer from a Montana hospital was rescinded for the same reason, Hawker said.

“Basically they’ve made me unemployable,” he said.

Noticing problems

As a child, Hawker looked up to his Marine father and from a young age dreamed of becoming a pilot. When poor vision derailed his plan, he joined the Navy, which put him through medical school. He stayed on active duty for 24 years as a Navy radiologist and remains in the Navy Reserves.

Jorge Guerra mentored Hawker for two years during his medical residency in Miami and said he was impressed with Hawker’s performance and work ethic.

“He was a very good physician,” he said.

In October 2010, Hawker deployed to Afghanistan. As an interventional radiologist working in a trauma ward at Camp Leatherneck, a sprawling Marine base in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, Hawker saw the worst horrors of the battlefield — shredded limbs, disfigurement, death. He said the sacrifices he saw disturbed and inspired him.

“I’ll never forget my first double amputee,” he said, shaking his head.

Moved by his experiences in Afghanistan, he opted to become a VA doctor when he retired from the service.

In April 2013, Hawker started work at the Salem Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The center and its five satellite clinics serve more than 110,000 veterans in a 26-county area of southwestern Virginia.

The trouble started almost immediately, Hawker said. When co-workers noticed he was putting in long hours, Hawker said they told him several times that he was upsetting contract doctors paid to pick up hours not covered by the staff.

Hawker didn’t heed the warnings.

He said he also noticed unsafe practices in the hospital, one of the most egregious being a mismanagement of a patient who appeared to be having a stroke. When the patient began exhibiting signs of a stroke, a senior doctor did nothing, putting the patient’s life at risk, Hawker said. The patient lived, but Hawker was disturbed and said he began lodging his concerns with colleagues and superiors.

LaPuz disputed those allegations and said Hawker never mentioned concerns until after he was fired Jan. 3, 2014.

“He did not bring up the complaints until after the termination,” LaPuz said.

According to documents reviewed by Stars and Stripes, Hawker did lodge concerns before being fired. A letter from the office of Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., confirming receipt of Hawker’s concerns is dated Nov. 12, 2013, nearly two months before he was removed from federal service. Four reports he sent to the Virginia Board of Medicine are dated Nov. 26, 2013.

‘Climate of fear’

Echoing wider problems across the VA health care system, Hawker said there is a “climate of fear” at the Salem VA, with many employees looking the other way when they see something wrong for fear of reprisals. After Hawker started reporting unsafe practices, he said one medical technician interrupted him when he brought up a concern.

“She said, ‘Dr. Hawker, don’t tell me anything — the less I know (the better). I just want to be able to retire,’” he recalled.

Soon after, he got a letter announcing that the hospital would be reducing his salary due to “deficiencies” in his abilities. That letter came just two months after a contradictory letter granting his medical “privileges” after he successfully completed the customary trial period.

That letter, signed by Hawker’s boss, Salem VAMC image service chief Rathnakara Sherigar, states that following “real-time observation” and review of his work from April to July 2013, Hawker was cleared to treat patients unsupervised. Two months later, he received another letter signed by Sherigar, citing his “limited competencies.”

Sherigar did not respond to requests for comment.

Things soon worsened for Hawker. He was told his work was being reviewed and he was brought in front of a Medical Executive Board that included some of the people he had mentioned in his concerns. They determined he had made errors in patient care and that he was not qualified for his job.

Before the hospital moved to fire him, he was shown a proficiency report signed by Sherigar that gave him an “unsatisfactory” rating for his work during the same time period as Sherigar’s earlier review that found him competent to perform his duties.

Hawker said he had never been shown either proficiency report until Oct. 17, 2013, three months after the end of the review period listed on the initial report. He suspects the reports were made retroactively to boost the board’s case to fire him.

LaPuz denied any records were manipulated. He said Hawker’s termination had nothing to do with retaliation and that he was treated fairly.

“It has everything to do with the findings of the case,” LaPuz said.

‘Cloak of secrecy’

James Martin, a doctor and national representative for the American Federation of Government Employees, said he is working on multiple cases of sham peer reviews in which VA doctors have been forced out by unethical administrators.

“I’ve got all kinds of stories,” he said.

According to Martin — who’s not personally involved in Hawker’s case — it’s fairly easy for administrators to oust doctors because the entire process is done in house. Doctors who report wrongdoing or malpractice are often judged by the very same people they have criticized.

The problem recently has gotten the attention of Congress.

“We are aware that sham peer reviews are sometimes used within VA to retaliate against employees, and we are working to address the problem legislatively next Congress,” according to an official with the House Committee on Veterans Affairs who can speak for the committee only anonymously.

A VA spokeswoman would not address the issue of sham peer reviews or whether the VA is looking into reforming the review process, instead pointing to measures the department has taken to protect whistleblowers from retaliation.

“VA is committed to creating an environment in which employees feel free to voice their concerns without fear of reprisal,” according to a VA statement released in response to Stars and Stripes’ questions.

The problem is less pervasive outside the VA partly because other hospitals tend to have a board of directors providing a check on administrators, Martin said. He would like to see VA peer reviews done on a regional basis, meaning complaints against doctors would be adjudicated by professionals at other hospitals rather than by the doctors’ co-workers. That, Martin said, would eliminate most of the conflicts of interest that he said are marring reviews.

“There’s a cloak of secrecy that gives them the power to do these things without transparency,” he said about the current in-house process.

VA officials would not say specifically whether they are looking into changing the peer review process.

Unfortunately for doctors who find themselves the victims of such reviews, the results are available for future employers, and it’s difficult to get the reviews overturned.

“It’s like the kiss of death,” Martin said.

druzin.heath@stripes.com 
Twitter: @Druzin_Stripes

Veterans exposed to viruses, claim V.A. avoided responsibility | MSNBC

Veterans exposed to viruses, claim V.A. avoided responsibility | MSNBC.

John Renegar Jr., wearing a careworn baseball cap emblazed with “101st Airborne”, surveyed his small living room in Smyrna Tennessee and shrugged. “It just makes you think you don’t mean nothin’ to anybody, you know,” the 66 year old Vietnam vet said. “You served a country, but you don’t mean anything to her.”

Renegar is referring to his treatment by the Department of Veteran Affairs. He’s one of thousands of veterans to receive a bombshell of a letter in 2009 – warning them that they may have been exposed to life-threatening infections as a result of misconfigured or unclean colonoscopy equipment. He’s also one of a smaller group to subsequently test positive for a serious infection – in his case, chronic hepatitis that will leave him at risk for life-threatening liver damage for the rest of his life. 

“It just makes you think you don’t mean nothing to anybody, you know. You served a country, but you don’t mean anything to her.”
JOHN RENEGAR JR., VIETNAM WAR

But Renegar was just as shaken by his treatment after the infection – with the V.A. ignoring his concerns, denying his claims, and eventually fighting him in court. 

Documents obtained by NBC News show he is not alone – in fact, the agency has quietly rejected most of the medical malpractice claims associated with the botched colonoscopies.

Reneger said he believes he contracted his case of hepatitis during a colonoscopy at the V.A.’s Alvin C. York Medical Center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee on Oct. 30, 2003. “You know you’ve lived a clean life and hadn’t done any kind of drugs or … been running around on my wife or anything,” he said. “… I don’t know of anywhere else I could have got it.” He was among 6,387 patients deemed at risk after procedures at that facility between April 23, 2003 and Dec. 1, 2008.

Staff at the Murfreesboro clinic first discovered the problem after seeing blood in the tubing of a water system used for irrigation during colonoscopies on Dec. 1, 2008, according to a 2009 report by the V.A.’s inspector general. An investigation by the hospital determined that a required one-way valve had been absent during procedures performed that day, and that the water system tubing had not been disinfected or discarded per the manufacturer’s instructions.

Investigators later determined that the original valve on the water system had been replaced by one intended for use during the cleaning process, which lacked the one-way valve designed to prevent the backflow of bodily fluids into the water tube. A review panel couldn’t determine when the switch occurred, according to the report – so it ordered the V.A. to notify all 6,387 veterans who had undergone colonoscopies at the hospital dating back to the April 23, 2003 delivery of the equipment by the manufacturer.

Valorie Hoermann, a U.S. army veteran who served in the Middle East, worked as a physician’s assistant in primary care at the Murfreesboro facility – though not in the department that performed the colonoscopies.  She didn’t witness the problems herself, but says that they were common knowledge there. Individuals with knowledge of the procedures told her “that the blood and the saline that came from another patient was going into another.” She says the staff didn’t speak up for one reason: “Fear. Fear. That’s the only thing I can say.”

The problems weren’t limited to Murfreesboro. A broader investigation found that medical staff at the Bruce W. Carter V.A. Medical Center in Miami also endangered patients by failing to perform required cleaning of the colonoscopy equipment between procedures from May 2004 until Feb. 12, 2009. In that case, the V.A. sent letters to 3,260 veterans warning them they could have been infected. 

“Records reveal a consistent response: the V.A. denied most of the claims.”
RONAN FARROW

Sixteen other V.A. facilities reported that that they had not been compliant with colonoscopy “reprocessing” (cleaning) guidelines, but review panels determined that the risk of infection at those facilities was minimal and did not send warning letters to veterans, according to the report.

The V.A. did not respond to repeated interview requests from NBC News, but issued a statement saying, “It is unacceptable that Veterans were exposed to harm at some V.A. facilities. When this came to light in 2009, V.A. undertook a comprehensive program that included policy implementation of new policy, standard operating procedures and additional individual training to ensure that reusable medical equipment was reprocessed properly and issues like this never happened again.”

The agency has previously acknowledged that errors involving equipment and cleaning procedures may have exposed more than 10,000 veterans to viral infections. The risk resulted from “a small amount of bodily fluid remaining (in the equipment) from the previous patient’s procedure,” it said in that letter Renegar and others received, alerting them to the safety lapse. 

But it claims that the problems were aberrations. It noted that in fiscal 2013, the V.A. paid only 453 medical malpractice claims nationwide out of 1,600 filed, representing a tiny percentage of the 107 million patients its medical staff saw during the year.

For the veterans exposed to the risk of infection, the agency offered precautionary blood tests. It now reports that 92 of the veterans tested positive for those viral infections – 71 for hepatitis C, 13 for hepatitis B and eight for HIV, which causes AIDS.

Records obtained by NBC News through a Freedom of Information Act reveals that 76 veterans filed malpractice claims against the V.A. as a result of the lapses – including 21 who subsequently tested positive for infections. The others claimed non-physical harm from the stress of knowing they were at risk.

The records also reveal a consistent response: the V.A. denied most of the claims.

“Our investigation did not disclose any negligent acts or omissions by employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs acting within the scope of their employment … for which the V.A. would be liable,” it said in a letter informing the veterans of its decision. “Accordingly, this claim is denied.”

It was that move – turning the veterans into legal adversaries, that hurt some the most. “I think in plain language, they should have come to each of these affected soldiers and told them, ‘this is what happened to you,” says Phillip Wayne Bell, a 66-year-old former sergeant major in the U.S. Army and Army Reserves who saw combat in Vietnam, Bosnia and Iraq. He has hepatitis B – contracted, he believes, from his V.A. colonoscopy. He wants the V.A. to “acknowledge that it’s happened. And it’s our fault. We did it. We caused it.”…

…After the V.A. denied most claims filed as a result of the errors at the Murfreesboro and Miami hospitals, Sheppard said he tried to engage the V.A. in a dialogue “to discuss how they could all do the right thing for all the affected veterans.” When those efforts were rebuffed, he said, he filed negligence lawsuits on behalf of nine of the veterans in federal court in Tennessee, seeking significant financial awards. The V.A. response, he said, was to argue in court that no one could definitively determine whether the veterans’ injuries were caused by the colonoscopies. 

“The VA refused to provide the veterans’ full medical records and other documentation that might enable ‘mapping actual chains of infection.’”
ATTORNEY MIKE SHEPPARD

That put the veterans in a Catch-22 situation, he said, because the V.A. refused to provide the veterans’ full medical records and other documentation that might enable “mapping actual chains of infection.”

Attorneys for the V.A. did, however, produce a “schedule of exams” in response to Renegar’s lawsuit that indicated that patients who got colonoscopies before him on the same day all were negative for hepatitis, raising doubt about the source of his infection.

In the end, the federal court in Tennessee dismissed all the lawsuits filed by veterans there, including Bell’s and Renegar’s, largely on the technical grounds of the government’s arguments and the state’s required burden of proof for such cases.

Some veterans in Florida, which has a different burden of proof, have fared better. A federal court there awarded more than $1 million to one veteran who allegedly contracted hepatitis C during his colonoscopy, and the man’s wife. The V.A. settled another lawsuit filed by a veteran who argued he was infected with HIV during his colonoscopy for an undisclosed amount. Both men underwent their procedures at the V.A. medical center in Miami.

The legal wrangling with the V.A. over their illnesses has left both Bell and Renegar with bitter feelings toward the agency, which they say has treated them as opponents, not men who risked their lives to defend their country.

“You feel like you’re discarded. And you feel like it’s all a matter of money,” Bell said.

Both men say their infections have disrupted their lives in ways that have nothing to do with concern over how it might impact their health.

Both decided to abstain from sexual relations with their wives after learning they had tested positive for the disease, fearing they could infect them.

“She loves me and I love her,” Renegar said of his wife of 43 years, Rowena. “But we just don’t seem to have the real closeness that we used to have before that.”

FAYETTEVILLE: Veteran says VA missed his cancer diagnosis – WNCN: News, Weather, Raleigh, Durham, Fayetteville

Sitting outside of Fayetteville VA in a well-worn United States Marine Corps hat sits a very frustrated, overwhelmed veteran and his care taker.

“We’re just overlooked, kicked under the dirt,” said retired marine Edward Kirby.

Like many marines and soldiers, Kirby went to Fayetteville VA for the health care he was promised. But he says 90 days came and went, with no doctor.

“They said it’d be 60 to 90 days and we’ll get you a primary care doctor,” Kirby said.

It took a year for Kirby to finally get seen by a doctor, he said.

“He looked at my ears, my nose, my throat and said, ‘OK, I’ll see you in 9 months,'” Kirby recalled.

VA guidelines say veterans should be seen within 14 days of their desired date for a primary care appointment. However a recent national audit of 731 VA hospitals and large outpatient clinics found the agency’s complicated appointment process created confusion among scheduling clerks and supervisors.

The department now says that meeting that 14-day target was unattainable given existing resources and growing demand.

For a new patient looking for primary care, the VA’s Fayetteville hospital has the third worst wait times in the system, averaging 83 days; the average wait was 62 days to see a specialist and 27 days for mental health.

The long waits have led some to turn to care outside of VA clinics, which is exactly what Kirby did. That was when Kirby learned he had Stage 3 throat cancer.

The VA doctor “said, ‘I’ll see you in 9 months,'” Kirby said. “I’m not going to live 9 months.”

Had he waited, Kirby said he believes he never would have made it to his next VA appointment.

Kirby, who is battling depression and anxiety, also asked to see a psychiatrist. He said the

via FAYETTEVILLE: Veteran says VA missed his cancer diagnosis – WNCN: News, Weather, Raleigh, Durham, Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE: VA sued after vet kills wife, then himself – WNCN: News, Weather, Raleigh, Durham, Fayetteville

The Fayetteville Veterans Affairs Medical Center failed to provide proper care and follow-up treatment before a veteran killed his wife, then himself, according to a lawsuit filed last week.

The Fayetteville Observer reports the family of 62-year-old Paul Wade Adams Sr. of Lumberton filed the lawsuit Wednesday, seeking $40 million.

According to the lawsuit, Paul Adams went to the Fayetteville VA in June 2012 and was prescribed Zoloft after complaining of suicidal thoughts. A few weeks later, he tried to shoot himself and spent several days in the VA’s psychiatric unit, where records show Adams had thoughts or plans about killing other people.

Adams killed his 56-year-old wife, Cathy, then himself on July 18, 2012.

The lawsuit says that the VA switched Adams’ medication and released him without doing enough observation to see if it was working or warning his family he could be violent. The lawsuit also says that the VA was negligent in part because it didn’t make sure Adams didn’t have access to guns after he was released.

Officials at the VA declined to discuss the lawsuit.

via FAYETTEVILLE: VA sued after vet kills wife, then himself – WNCN: News, Weather, Raleigh, Durham, Fayetteville.

Ex-Phoenix VA Hospital Boss Firing Upheld for Accepting Illegal Gifts | Military.com

An appeals board has backed the firing of Sharon Helman as director of the VA medical center in Phoenix, Arizona, but not because it connected her to long patient wait-times and manipulated data at the hospital.

Instead the appeals board supported the firing because she accepted gifts from contractors.

Helman was fired in November, seven months after being placed on administrative leave amid whistleblower allegations that up to 40 veterans died while awaiting an appointment. It was also alleged that she had retaliated against employees who tried to focus attention on problems at the hospital. However, the U.S. Merit System Protection Board, who reviewed her firing, said they found no evidence of that.

Chief Administrative Judge Stephen C. Mish said the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board is satisfied with VA evidence that Helman accepted multiple airline and concert tickets. Helman accepted tickets for a Beyonce concert, Chang’s Rock & Roll Arizona Marathon, the Mississippi Blues Marathon and an eight-night stay at Disney World from a consultant to a healthcare provider looking to do business with the VA facility, according to evidence.

Mish said in his ruling that the VA failed to make its case that Helman was directly responsible for the wait-times scandal that rocked an already troubled agency starting in April, or that she ordered the reassignments of medical staff that previously tried to report problems with the facility.

via Ex-Phoenix VA Hospital Boss Firing Upheld for Accepting Illegal Gifts | Military.com.

Joseph Colon-Christensen suspended from VA job, won’t be terminated – Washington Times

Department of Veterans Affairs credentialing official who said VA supervisors sought to fire him for reporting the arrest of a high-ranking VA executive has been suspended from his job but won’t be fired.

In a case that’s attracted the attention of Congress, Puerto Rico-based VA employee Joseph Colon-Christensen was put on notice of his proposed firing earlier this year after alerting the VA about the arrest of his boss, DeWayne Hamlin, director of the VA’s Caribbean network.

A VA official presiding over Mr. Colon-Christensen’s case ruled that “the penalty of removal is not appropriate nor within the range of reasonableness,” according to a Dec. 23 ruling on the notice of proposed termination.

SEE ALSO: VA whistleblower claims retaliation for reporting arrest of high-ranking official

The termination notice against Mr. Colon-Christensen made no mention of Mr. Hamlin’s arrest, but Mr. Christensen said he learned about his possible firing soon after he’d alerted VA officials in Washington. And both Mr. Colon-Christensen and his attorney told The Washington Times in September that the timing of the termination notice raised questions about whether the move was retaliatory at a time when the VA was encouraging whistleblowers to come forward.

Mr. Hamlin repeatedly refused a breathalyzer and declined to identify the source of a narcotic painkiller pill found in his pocket after a Florida sheriff’s deputy spotted him in a parked car after 1 a.m. back in April, according to a police report.

However, the Pasco County State’s Attorney’s Office later dropped drug possession charges over “concerns about the stop,” according to a memo obtained by The Times through an open records request. A drunken driving charge also was tossed.

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In email to The Times earlier this year, Mr. Hamlin called the arrest a misunderstanding. He also noted that he was being treated for a medical condition. He declined to discuss the arrest report, saying he did not want to discuss his personal medical information.

Mr. Colon-Christensen, a veteran himself, was suspended for three days over what the VA deemed an unauthorized disclosure of information.

Records in the case reviewed by The Times, which were provided by Mr. Colon-Christensen, show that violation stemmed from emails that he had sent to a VA employee at another facility raising concerns about hiring practices.

Mr. Colon-Christensen said he was disappointed with the suspension, even if the VA rejected the termination proposal.

via Joseph Colon-Christensen suspended from VA job, won’t be terminated – Washington Times.