Veterans Affairs Says 600 Got ALS Letter

Just two days ago we wrote that despite a problem with nearly 2,000 letters mistakenly sent to veterans discussing a diagnosis for the fatal Lou Gehrig’s disease—also known as ALS—the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) claimed that only 10 letters were received in error. Now, according to a report by the Associated Press (AP), the VA says over 600 veterans received the distressing letters in error, citing VA spokeswoman Katie Roberts.

The VA now acknowledges that its earlier estimate was wrong and agrees the numbers are, indeed, greater, said the AP. The letters were meant to alert veterans suffering from ALS of available benefits meant for them or their family members, the AP explained earlier this week.

The veterans who received the notification in error were incorrectly led to believe they were suffering from the fatal disease. A diagnosis of ALS is considered grim with a five-year, degenerative, and painful life sentence. Wrong diagnosis confirmation is a significantly frightening prospect given that the miscommunication, in this case, affected patients already diagnosed with some sort of neurological disorder.

Meanwhile, the National Gulf War Resource Center, which assists military with illness information, support, and referrals, believes the number of letters erroneously sent is upwards of 1,200, according to a prior AP report. Earlier this week, Denise Nichols, the group’s vice president, said they have been contacted by very anxious veterans in at least 12 states, according to the AP. The group’s president—Jim Bunker—alleged that a VA source said the problem originated with a coding error that assigned veterans with “undiagnosed neurological disorders” the code for ALS, said the AP.

The erroneous letters sent a panic wave on the heels of two other scandals that have rocked veterans nationwide with problems involving shoddy colonoscopies, endoscopies, and radiation treatments. Those alleged errors 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. As of earlier this month, eight patients 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. 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. Under dosing can cause issues with disease eradication, over dosing and dosing in unaffected areas can cause permanent bodily damage.

In response to the ALS scandal, the VA said it would create a better-managed notification letter screening process, said the AP, which added that the agency is also offering reimbursement for medical costs resulting from the mistake. Some veterans in receipt of the erroneous letters 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. In at least one case, a veteran said she accumulated thousands of dollars in medical bills.

Oddly, although the agency’s Secretary, Eric Shinseki, was speaking to a veterans group at a VA hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, yesterday, a staffer with him told the AP that Shinseki would not have time for an interview regarding the ALS letter debacle. And, during a question and answer period at the event, no veteran asked about the letters, said the AP.

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