We recently settled this case with the VA for $500,000. Sadly, the case was the sort of scenario we see too often. It’s been our observation that the VA’s handling of women’s healthcare is often problematic. This case was a textbook example. This 36-year-old veteran came to her local VA for birth control, something quite routine. She opted for placement of an IUD, again something that was not out of the ordinary. What a disaster it turned out to be.
The client clearly recalled that the IUD was placed by a nurse practitioner in training. That was disclosed and she was supervised by another NP. Interestingly, however, the note for the procedure made no mention of this.
Six days later, the veteran returned with complaints of sharp, cramping pain in her abdomen, a “poking pain,” and a sensation of movement of the IUD. On examination, the nurse practitioner was unable to see the IUD strings. A stat ultrasound found that the IUD had migrated and would need to be removed surgically. The veteran was sent to see a GYN and, after another six days, she underwent surgery to remove the device. According to the records, the procedure went well, and the patient was discharged home.
The next day, the veteran was not feeling well and went to a private hospital. She was evaluated and referred back to the VA, where she was admitted for treatment. By then she had clear peritonitis and underwent extensive surgery. She had a tough time in the hospital and continues to have issues associated with this event. She also cannot have any more children because during the surgery a tubal ligation needed to be done.
The VA’s defense was what one might expect: What happened was just a complication, albeit a bad one. However, our expert carefully dissected the notes and was able to show that, among other things, the GYN likely used excessive force in removing the IUD and that is how the bowel was perforated in a place one would not expect. It was also noteworthy that the surgeon’s note did not indicate that he did an inspection of the bowel.
In one sense, our client was lucky. She could have died or been left with far more substantial disabilities. Still, what happened to her did not need to happen.
Interestingly, there were issues with the GYN doctor. About 15 years before, the Board of Medicine had reprimanded him, and he closed his private practice. The issues before the Board were quite serious, but it was noted that he had gone to work at the VA, where he would be supervised. It turned out that our case was not his only FTCA claim.
The concern about the VA hiring doctors with checkered histories is nothing new, unfortunately. We have seen this before and there are some truly horrendous tales out there.
One likely reason we were able to help this veteran and get her a substantial settlement is that the VA knows us and takes us seriously. We could have tried this case – and we would have done it well. Can I prove that our presence was a factor in the favorable outcome here? Of course not, but I am still confident that that was the case.