VA Victims to File Disability Claims

We recently wrote that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) was roundly criticized at a hearing before a House VA committee for not increasing safeguards and improving procedures at VA health facilities after <"">shoddy colonoscopies and endoscopies were potentially linked to the spread of dangerous, deadly pathogens. Now, an attorney is planning on asking the U.S. Department of VA to pay disability benefits and damages for these mistakes, reported the Associated Press (AP).

We also recently wrote that despite a nationwide scare, media attention, and suspected links to HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C, less than half of all VA facilities were operating under appropriate procedures based on surprise investigations spurred by the scandal, which broke months earlier, citing a prior AP report.

HIV and hepatitis B and C are spread by contact with infected body fluids, especially blood. HIV—the human immunodeficiency virus—is the virus that causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome); AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection. Hepatitis B and C are liver diseases that can lead to cirrhosis or cancer of the liver. Vaccines exist only for hepatitis B. HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B and C can all be fatal.

The complaint is for about 60 veterans, three of whom are women, said the AP, and includes veterans who tested positive for the blood borne illnesses and who also allege to suffering emotional distress. In those cases, according to the AP, the distress occurred after the VA provided initial positive blood tests for infections but were, in fact, negative.

According to the AP, current VA records indicate that of those patients who received testing, eight have tested positive for HIV, 12 for hepatitis B, and 37 for hepatitis C. In all, 9,141 patients have received test results of the 10,320 patients who received letters suggesting they to undergo testing due to potential exposure, said the AP.

Meanwhile, the shoddy endoscopies and colonoscopies were conducted as far back as five years ago and put VA patients at risk because they were treated with equipment that was not appropriately sterilized, thus exposing them to the bodily fluids of other patients, noted the AP previously. The VA acknowledged in its warnings letters that the invasive procedures potentially exposed them to other patients’ bodily fluids. Also, the VA admitted in late March that water tubes and reservoirs it used in colonoscopies and endoscopies were rinsed—not disinfected—between procedures, which could expose subsequent patients to contamination.

The VA has admitted to the mistakes, which, it said, were caused by human error, reported the AP earlier, but says that it is unable to prove if the infections are directly linked to VA procedures. The VA said the errors were isolated to three of its hospitals: Murfreesboro, Tennessee; Miami, Florida; and Augusta, Georgia, according to the AP. Many believe dirty equipment is to blame and, last month, the AP reported that other VA patients were not warned about similar mistakes with the same equipment at more than 12 other VA centers.

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