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V.A. Hospital Scandal Shows Horrors of Medical Errors


The Sunday New York Times tells the story of a "rogue cancer unit" that not only wrongly implanted radioactive seeds used to treat cancer, but then tried to cover up the error to avoid investigations by regulators.

One patient was the Rev. Ricardo Flippin, a 21-year veteran of the Air Force. “I couldn’t walk and I couldn’t stand,” he said, citing rectal pain so severe that he had to remain in bed for six months, losing his church job and his income.

The article shines an unfortunate light on the all-too-common incidences of medical errors. According to the Institute of Medicine, up to 98,000 people die every year from preventable medical errors. Obviously, this number must be lowered to make strides in patient safety.

The story also makes clear why a strong civil justice system is needed: so wrongdoers are held accountable and patients can seek legal recourse when injured through no fault of their own. In this morning’s USA Today, AAJ President Les Weisbrod penned an op-ed calling for the rights of legal patients to be preserved as Congress overhauls health care.

Limiting the legal rights of patients will do nothing to provide insurance coverage or lower health care costs. Eliminating errors and keeping patients safe will most certainly accomplish these goals. And this is something all of us can support.

Reforming health care will be difficult and complex. But the V.A. hospital scandal underscores why the safety of patients and decreasing the number of medical errors must be the focus, not limiting the rights of patients.

Also of note is if those injured at the V.A. hospitals are active duty military, they may not have any legal recourse because of the Feres doctrine. On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee will markup the Carmelo Rodriguez Military Medical Accountability Act, which will provide legal recourse for active duty military injured by medical negligence. More info on this bill is available here.


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  1. Ed Fremer says:
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    My son Michael Fremer was killed at Fort Polk, La on 2/13/08 because of Army Negligence at the conclusion of a training exercise. The Army can not be held accountable because of the Feres Doctrine. This law needs to be changed. Why is the Army exempt from being held accountable for Negligence? Our young men and woman are risking their lives. This is how our country treats the soldiers and the families?

    The Military uses the Feres Doctrine to cover up and protect themselves against Medical Malpractice in the Cases involving Dean Witt and Carmelo Rodriguez. It also protects the Military in cases involving Marines being exposed to Toxic chemicals on US Bases on US soil. The Military is exempt from being held accountable on all of these matters. The Feres Doctrine needs to be overturned so the Military is held accountable.


  2. Mike Bryant says:
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    The Veterans need respect and the protections of the court system, it is important that we respect them by making sure they get justice.