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Veterans at the heart of medical malpractice claims

The men and women who serve our country literally lay their lives on the line. When they fall ill or injured, they may seek the care of a veterans' affairs hospital in Massachusetts or elsewhere. A doctor error can have serious repercussions for veterans already struggling with their existing conditions. VA hospitals treat some of this country's most vulnerable, and therefore should provide quality care.

Unfortunately, that is not always the case. In fact, over the past 10 years, nearly 4,500 veterans and their family members successfully brought medical malpractice suits against the VA medical system. One retired Air Force captain who had heart arrhythmia sought medical care and underwent a laser surgery that accidentally punctured his heart, resulting in his death.

In another instance - which spurred the largest malpractice payout in 10 years - a veteran needed to have several teeth removed. Despite his extremely low blood pressure, doctors performed the extraction, and he later suffered a massive stroke and crashed his car. He now requires around-the-clock care.

In the last decade, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has paid out roughly $840 million in malpractice suits. Last year alone, 454 settlements resulted in $98.3 million in awards. While VA officials note that they see more than 6 million vets a year and therefore have a relatively low number of claims, many families may argue that just one instance is one too many.

Under federal law, victims of medical malpractice are not able to bring suit against individual doctors - they may only file a claim against the VA. In private practice, the laws differ. When someone suffers additional injury or illness at the hands of a medical practitioner, it is important that they seek legal help to pursue their compensatory rights to the fullest extent. Life-changing - and sometimes life-ending - doctor's errors should be brought to justice.

Source: ActionNewsJax.com, "VA medical malpractice payouts top $840 million over 10 years," Catherine Varnum, Nov. 11, 2013

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