In October, we wrote about the Veterans Affairs whistleblowers who reported deceased veterans at the Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital were left for weeks before they were buried. That was just one of a number of scandals involving allegations of coverups and malpractice at the country's VA hospitals.
One of the first cases that came to light involved the Phoenix VA hospital, where staff were falsifying appointment records to make it appear as if patients were seen within the 14-day target window. However, most veterans waited much longer, with some waiting weeks before they could get an appointment. As a result of the delays, an investigation found that a number of veterans had died while waiting for care in the Phoenix VA system.
The Phoenix VA is now involved as part of a medical malpractice lawsuit against the U.S. government. In a case filed in federal court, the plaintiff, Steven Cooper, claims the VA Medical Center in Arizona denied him access to care and failed to diagnose advanced-stage prostate cancer.
Cooper served in the U.S. Army as a military police officer for 18 years. After he left the service, he sought medical care at the Phoenix VA. In 2011, Cooper was examined by a nurse practitioner, who found his prostate was asymmetrical. The nurse noted the observation but failed to set up an appointment with a urologist and did not order a blood test that would have been able to detect prostate cancer.
Almost a year later, Cooper returned to the VA where a physician identified late stage prostate cancer. However, the doctor said the disease was not treatable and Cooper should seek out hospice care. A VA physician said he should have further testing done immediately, but there were no available appointments for four months. Instead, Cooper sought out a private care specialist who performed surgery on Cooper, prolonging his life for years.
Cooper is still alive today. However, according to his lawyer, the surgery will only give Cooper more time but he will eventually die from the disease. Cooper contends that if the cancer was caught in 2011, a simple operation might have eliminated the cancer from his body, saving his life. Instead, it spread to his lymph nodes, requiring radiation treatment and chemotherapy.
An attorney for the Department of Veterans Affairs, Elizabeth Sichi, disputes Cooper's claims. “There was not an indication of anything being wrong at all,” said Sichi. Sichi claimed that the nurse's treatment of Cooper was acceptable in the medical community and it is speculation that the cancer could have been detected earlier and contained. Cooper is seeking $50 million in damages.
If you have been unable to seek timely treatment at a VA medical center and have suffered an illness or injury because of the delay, you may have a case against the VA. If a doctor, nurse, or other medical professional failed to diagnose a disease or illness, you may have a claim for medical malpractice. Speak with an experienced attorney who understands that you have the right to get answers when someone makes a medical mistake. At Benassi & Benassi, we are committed to getting our clients the justice they deserve and equal treatment under the law.