The Department of Veterans Affairs paid at least 13 wrongful death claims in Indiana in the past dozen years, including two for patients of the VA Medical Center in Fort Wayne.
The Center for Investigative Reporting reported in April that VA spent more than $200 million in wrongful death payments made to nearly 1,000 families in the decade after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The Dayton Daily News and Cox Media Group reported May 17 that VA had paid 1,194 claims since 2001 for malpractice that allegedly resulted in patient deaths. The Daily News/Cox Media found that in 167 cases, the term “delay in treatment” was used.
Those reports and others related to VA deaths, treatment delays and falsified records have prompted veterans groups and members of Congress to demand an overhaul of the agency and its leadership. Robert Petzel recently resigned as VA's undersecretary for health, and the House approved legislation Wednesday that would give the VA secretary greater authority to fire employees.
The news organizations offer online links to their databases, which provide the dates of wrongful death claims, general descriptions of the types of alleged malpractice, the sites of alleged malpractice and the sums paid to survivors by VA.
A malpractice claim of improper performance and improper management was filed in 2003 against the Fort Wayne VA facility related to the death of a patient. VA paid the surviving family $150,000.
In another case, the medical center was accused in 2008 of improper performance in the death of a patient. The family received $250,000.
The complex at Lake Avenue and Randallia Drive is part of the VA Northern Indiana Health Care System, which operates another medical center in Marion and outpatient clinics in Goshen, South Bend, Peru and Muncie.
The CIR database lists three wrongful death payments for Marion totaling about $110,000. The Daily News/Cox Media database adds a fourth payment, a settlement for $75,000, but notes that a court-ordered payment amount was “null.” The Marion malpractice allegations include wrong diagnosis, failure to supervise and failure to recognize a complication.
Asked for a response to the cases, Michael Brady, public affairs officer for VA Northern Indiana Health Care System, issued a four-paragraph statement and a copy of the federal government's tort claims law, which spells out how wrongful death claims may be filed.
“Any adverse incident for a Veteran within our care is one too many,” Brady wrote. “When an incident occurs in our system we aggressively identify, correct and work to prevent additional risks. We conduct a thorough review to understand what happened, prevent similar incidents in the future, and share lessons learned across the system.”
Brady said he could not release details on specific claims to the public. He said the Veterans Health Administration “is committed to a process of full and open disclosure to Veterans and their families,” including notifying them of patient rights and recourse in the event patients are harmed during their care.
“VHA's disclosure of adverse events is consistent with the practices of a transparent organization,” Brady wrote. “This level of transparency is a best practice in the US medical community. Our transparency is based in a respect for our patients, America's Veterans, and a philosophy that transparency improves the care we provide.”
The VA Northern Health Care System is part of Veterans Integrated Service Network 11, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. VISN 11 oversees VA hospitals and clinics in much of Indiana and Michigan and parts of Ohio and Illinois.
The CIR and Daily News/Cox Media databases indicate that most other VISN 11 medical centers had more wrongful death claims and larger total payments than reported individually for Fort Wayne and Marion.
The VA Illiana Health Care Center in Danville, Illinois, paid $3.4 million for eight claims in one database and $4.2 million for 10 claims in the other.
The John D. Dingell VA Medical Center in Detroit paid more than $1.8 million for nine claims in the Daily News/Cox Media database. That center could not be accessed by the CIR database.
The Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis paid $920,000 for eight claims or $1.1 million for nine claims, depending on the database.
The Battle Creek, Michigan, VA Medical Center paid $750,000 for six claims or $925,000 for five claims.
The medical center in Saginaw, Michigan, paid $762,500 for three claims, and the one in Ann Arbor paid $283,500 for two claims in one database and $458,500 for three claims in the other.
The Daily News/Cox Media database links eight wrongful deaths at five VISN 11 facilities to delays in treatment, performance or diagnosis.