‘Dan­ger­ous’ doc­tors have no place in VA

Tampa Bay Times - - Opinion -

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 life-and-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 months-long 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, like some pe­dophile priests in the Catholic church, 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 last 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 lifethreat­en­ing ail­ments.

What should be made ab­so­lutely clear to our veterans and their fam­i­lies, and backed up by ac­tion, is that 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.

A (Wood­land Park, N.J.) Record ed­i­to­rial

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