‘Dan­ger­ous’ doc­tors have no place within VA

Hawaii Tribune Herald - - COMMENTARY - — The Record (Wood­land Park, N.J.)

When some­one signs up to serve in the U.S. mil­i­tary, that per­son goes in with eyes open know­ing they might be sent to a for­eign field, un­friendly wa­ters or dan­ger­ous skies. Th­ese are our bravest ci­ti­zens and they go through ex­ten­sive train­ing. Still, once de­ployed they are never ab­so­lutely cer­tain what chal­lenge, ob­sta­cle or life­and-death cir­cum­stance awaits.

That should never be the case when it comes to vet­er­ans and their health care. The char­ac­ter, ef­fi­ciency and over­all qual­ity of that care should al­ways be pro­fes­sional, above­board and trans­par­ent for all con­cerned to see.

Sadly, ap­par­ently, that has not been the case. Ac­cord­ing to a month­s­long in­ves­tiga­tive re­port from USA To­day, the mis­takes and in­ep­ti­tude of cer­tain “prob­lem” doc­tors and sur­geons within the Depart­ment of Vet­eran Af­fairs were con­cealed for years, and in some cases the of­fend­ing doc­tors were sim­ply shep­herded off to an­other lo­cale, with­out their mis­deeds or failed prac­tices ever be­ing prop­erly dis­closed.

A chilling ex­am­ple of such dere­lic­tion of duty and gross mis­con­duct re­lates to the case of a po­di­a­trist in Maine who re­port­edly botched one surgery af­ter an­other. The doc­tor, who was de­scribed dur­ing a court de­po­si­tion as a “dan­ger­ous sur­geon,” is said to have drilled the wrong screw into the foot of one vet­eran and sev­ered a crit­i­cal ten­don in an­other. He cut into pa­tients who didn’t need surgery at all and twice he failed to prop­erly fuse the an­kle of a wo­man who broke it dur­ing Army boot camp. The wo­man, April Wood, ended up hav­ing her leg am­pu­tated rather than en­dure the pain.

Rather than fire the doc­tor re­spon­si­ble or re­port him to a na­tional data­base that tracks prob­lem doc­tors, VA of­fi­cials al­lowed him to re­sign and qui­etly move on to pri­vate prac­tice, then failed for years to dis­close his past to his pa­tients and state reg­u­la­tors who li­censed him. Ac­cord­ing to USA To­day, he now works as a po­di­a­trist in New York City.

In the past decade the VA — the na­tion’s largest em­ployer of health care work­ers — has been rocked by one em­bar­rass­ing scan­dal af­ter an­other, in re­gard to treat­ment and even ba­sic wait times for vet­eran pa­tients with se­ri­ous, even life-threat­en­ing ail­ments.

Th­ese lat­est rev­e­la­tions could be the most shame­ful to come to light. They in­volve not just wide­spread in­com­pe­tence and shoddy care for vet­er­ans, but cover-ups in­volv­ing the purg­ing of neg­a­tive re­ports from per­son­nel files. USA To­day re­viewed hun­dreds of con­fi­den­tial VA records, in­clud­ing some 230 se­cret set­tle­ment deals never be­fore seen by the pub­lic.

“What they are say­ing is, ‘We don’t want you to work for us, but we’ll help you get a job else­where.’ That’s out­ra­geous,” said Michael Carome, a doc­tor and di­rec­tor of the health re­search group at Pub­lic Cit­i­zen in Wash­ing­ton.

The out­rage should be pal­pa­ble to us all. How long will our vet­er­ans have to wait be­fore they are treated, across the board, with the same dig­nity and re­spect with which they so hon­or­ably served our coun­try?

What should be made ab­so­lutely clear to our vet­er­ans and their fam­i­lies, and backed up by ac­tion, is once they com­plete their ser­vice they will have ac­cess to first-rate med­i­cal treat­ment, when and wher­ever they need it, by doc­tors and nurses who are pro­fes­sion­als and who have only their best in­ter­ests at heart.

We, as a na­tion, should of­fer them no less.

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