Be wary of malpractice at the veterans' hospitals

Worried about finding a good doctor?

You might want to try anywhere except the local veterans' hospital. In fact, you might want to think twice about seeing a doctor who has ever worked at one.

Recent investigations into accusations involving malpractice, misconduct and licensing problems reveals a rat's nest of trouble -- including doctors with a history of malpractice issues. Since Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals don't require their doctors to carry their own malpractice insurance -- the government does it for them -- doctors who are only qualify for high-risk insurance because of past problems find a refuge there.

The VA seems to turn a blind eye to their past -- even when the doctor has left his patients paralyzed or unable to control their bladder and bowels. One neurosurgeon had more than a dozen medical malpractice claims and his license was revoked in one state -- but he disclosed all that in his application so the VA in another state hired him. It's probably not surprising to anyone that more patients suffered at his hands after he was hired.

A psychiatrist was able to find employment with the VA in Oklahoma after sleeping with his patients. Another in Wisconsin was called the "candy man" because of his fondness for passing out narcotics. A psychologist was hired in a Louisiana VA even though he had prior felonies and wasn't dismissed until he became a threat.

Perhaps the worst part of what is happening at VA clinics nationwide is the many of those doctors are hired illegally -- their applications are given a pass even though federal law prohibits hiring physicians whose licenses have been revoked in any state. Then, the VA covers the doctors' tracks. Many eventually leave the VA again to go on to other positions -- their shady past hidden in a mess of governmental secrecy and red tape.

Facts like show the importance of trying to hold doctors who commit medical malpractice accountable for their actions. While an imperfect system, if enough people act, it eventually gets noticed and helps protect everyone.

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Vincent J. DeSalvo, Attorney at Law
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