Another VA Blunder: Patients Mistakenly Told They Had ALS

In the wake of a number of <"">medical scandals, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is facing even more controversy. This time, nearly 2,000 veterans received letters meant to advise sufferers of ALS—Lou Gehrig’s disease—of available benefits meant for them or their family members, the Associated Press (AP) said. It seems a number of veterans received the notification in error and incorrectly believed they were suffering from the fatal disease.

The VA has also made news in recent days over scandals involving shoddy colonoscopies and endoscopies conducted at a number of VA facilities that have left some with dangerous, deadly diseases, such as HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C and others fearing for their health as they await test results. Also, a number of veterans allegedly received incorrect radiation doses during prostate cancer treatment over a six-year period at the VA Medical Center in Philadelphia. The VA is a teaching hospital for the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

The AP reported that according to agency spokeswoman, Katie Roberts, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is planning on “personally” apologizing to each of the veterans who received the letter incorrectly stating that they were diagnosed with ALS, a debilitating and deadly disease. Although no word has been given regarding how such an error occurred, an explanation as to how “this unfortunate and regrettable error” did happen is planned with the promise that the original letters do not confirm a diagnosis of ALS, said the AP. “We understand we made a mistake,” Roberts said. “We had every good intention,” quoted the AP.

While the VA claims that of over 1,800 letters, only 10 were received in error, a Gulf War veterans group believes the number of letters erroneously sent is upwards of 1,200, reported the AP. Denise Nichols, vice president of the National Gulf War Resource Center, a group that that helps military with illness information, support, and referrals, said the group has been contacted by very anxious veterans in at least 12 states, to date, according to the AP.

The group’s president—Jim Bunker—alleged that a source at the VA explained to him that the problem originated with a coding error that assigned veterans with “undiagnosed neurological disorders” the code for ALS, said the AP.

Some veterans in receipt of the letters sent to them in error have not only suffered through the anxiety of believing they have been stricken with the horrendous neurological disease that destroys the body’s ability to control voluntary muscles, they have racked up huge medical bills on second opinions from uninvolved physicians, the AP reported.

A diagnosis of ALS is considered grim with a five-year, degenerative, and painful life sentence. Such a mistake is a significantly frightening prospect given that the coding and miscommunication affected patients already diagnosed with some sort of neurological disorder.

As of earlier this month, eight patients have tested positive for HIV, 12 for hepatitis B, and 37 for hepatitis C, said the Washington Post, citing the VA, in connection with the shoddy endoscopies and colonoscopies scandal. And, at last count, 98 veterans (up six from the original 92 reported) received incorrect—over dosing, under dosing, and/or dosing in nonaffected body areas—radiation doses during prostate cancer treatment.

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