Are Veterans Getting Substandard Care Because Law Allows It?
Under the Federal Tort Claims Act and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling over fifty years ago, active-duty military personnel are barred from suing the U.S. government for injuries “incident to service” already if gross negligence was the cause. That prohibition applies to virtually any kind of injury related to military service already if the injury occurred off the job or wasn’t caused by military personnel. This doctrine is known as the Feres Doctrine and has been harshly criticized by judges who have called it unconstitutional; judges are forced to dismiss lawsuits due to the Feres Doctrine. The dependents of military personnel, or retired military, however, can sue the United States government for medical malpractice committed on the dependents; so family members of active duty military personnel do have some protection under the law, as do retired military personnel.
Prohibiting military personnel from pursuing claims and giving doctors immunity from malpractice lawsuits has produced an ecosystem that is more conducive to sloppy medical practices, according to the current system’s critics, including George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley.
Two Congressional Acts allow United States military dependents to seek damages for injuries consistent due to medical malpractice. Under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), military dependents are eligible to sue the federal government for medical malpractice that occurred at a military facility in the United States. The Military Claims Act (MCA) allows them to sue the government for malpractice that occurred in an American military facility outside the United States.
Recently, veterans’ groups and others are raising concerns about the conditions in Veteran Administration hospitals and whether veterans are receiving substandard care. Official VA inspections at a Seattle Washington VA hospital and other U.S. facilities have revealed unhealthy and dangerous conditions such as inadequate cleaning, vermin infestations and re-used medical devices/objects.
The FTCA is general and allows lawsuits against the government for medical malpractice claims, but the requirements for filing a suit are complicated. If you are a veteran and you or your family members were injured due to the negligence of a doctor or other medical personnel at a VA hospital, before you can sue, you must make an administrative claim against the VA for the complete amount of damages you have suffered. You will never be able to ask for more damages than the amount you put on the initial form unless you can prove the additional damages are based on evidence you couldn’t have known at the time you filed your claim. You usually need an experienced medical malpractice lawyer to help you by this time-consuming and difficult course of action.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has been moved by accounts of deplorable medical conditions at facilities such as Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the VA Hospital in Seattle, Washington. Recent disclosures that veterans are not getting adequate care at these facilities has outraged Capitol Hill and shocked the public. In response to this outrage, three high-level Pentagon officials have stepped down.
VA hospital inspections have found, also, that staff members are not adequately supervised and are falsifying reports regarding maintenance of medical equipment. Inspectors at one VA hospital had difficulty locating supervising physicians who were supposed to be present to supervise residents. In Kentucky, supervising physicians were found to have given out their computer passwords to resident physicians so the residents could cosign their own reports with no supervision.
Derelictions such as these are happening in our country’s VA hospitals every day. Until the laws are changed and made easier for the lay person to understand, this abuse on our nation’s veterans will continue, often going unnoticed.