In the aftermath of the scandal surrounding the Phoenix, Arizona Veterans Affairs Hospital, more reports of horrendous management that has affected the health and well-being of our veterans have emerged in other places. As discussed in a prior post, the Phoenix scandal involved keeping veterans in need of medical help on a secret waiting list as opposed to an official waiting list because of the serious backlog the facility faced in seeing and treating many of the veteran patients. Because the facility could not meet standards for efficient and timely treatment, rather than have it documented, they kept a secret list to track these veterans and then only transferred the patients to an official list when it was clear that they could be seen within a reasonable time from the moment of placing them on the official list.
Most recently, in light of the news about the Phoenix facility, the Chicago Tribune reported that federal auditors investigated allegations at a Veterans Affairs Hospital near Maywood, Illinois in western Cook County that the facility there also kept secret waiting lists to falsely demonstrate that it met VA regulations on timely treatment. Meeting such standards would ensure senior officials could earn bonuses for the hospital’s performance, which are based in part on the speediness of seeing veteran patients. These particular allegations came to light from a social worker, and also filtered through the local union for federal government employees before reaching the media and federal investigators. The investigation is in its nascent stage, as the allegations remain just allegations, and the whistleblower has not yet brought forward documentation to back these claims out of fear that hospital workers could experience retaliation as a result of the disclosures. Hospital leaders have disputed the allegations at the facility that has seen over 54,000 veterans in the last year, stating that any cited evidence cited (although not presented) does not actually consist of separate waiting lists. VA Inspector General investigators may look into it at the behest of U.S. Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois.
While investigations into the Phoenix scandal are ongoing, and investigations are only just commencing into the allegations of secret wait lists at the Illinois facility, there will soon come the time for the affected veterans and their families to consider legal action for damages. Plaintiffs would invariably bring these lawsuits under the Federal Tort Claims Act.
The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) generally allows private citizens to sue the United States in federal courts for injuries sustained as a result of a tort committed by someone acting on behalf of the federal government or in their capacity as an employee of the federal government. This is not universal coverage as there are certain exceptions, such as for law enforcement activity. However, those veterans who have not received adequate care as a result of the absurdly long wait time, and those families of veterans who died as a result of not receiving the necessary care, may have actionable cases against the Department of Veterans Affairs for damages caused by its employees’ negligent handling of wait lists, or in this case intentional cover up of that improper procedure. Those who were injured should strongly consider their rights to claims. No one should be treated this way, not least of all the brave men and women that served our country with honor and distinction, and have asked little else of us.
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