The 72-year-old veteran and his new wife had only been married three weeks when he tragically died at the VA hospital in Jackson, Mississippi. The death was totally preventable. Quite simply, he was given a medicine which the VA doctors knew could cause serious problems. Ultimately, after having to file suit, the government settled the case for $437,500. Considering Mississippi’s cap on non-economic damages (the applicable substantive law), we thought this was an excellent resolution.
The case was a simple one, which made it even more disturbing. The veteran had known heart rhythm issues and was on the list to get an ablation, a procedure which would likely have corrected the problem. Even so, the veteran was living a full life – and enjoying it.
To address the rhythm problem while he was awaiting approval of the ablation procedure, the VA cardiologist prescribed Verapamil, a standard cardiac medicine. Unfortunately, shortly after taking it the veteran decompensated seriously. He was taken to the ER and then admitted to the ICU. It was touch-and-go, but after a couple of days he began to get better and was transferred out of the ICU. During this time, it was noted in the records (in several places) that his presentation was likely related to the Verapamil. Obviously, the Verapamil was held – and that likely had a lot to do with the patient getting better.
The veteran’s VA cardiologist, the one who prescribed the Verapamil, was not involved in the patient’s hospital care for the first couple of days. However, when he came back on the scene, he decided that the Verapamil should be restarted. Apparently, there was some debate about this decision (which was not reflected in the medical records), but the Verapamil was finally administered. Within 90 minutes of receiving the medication, the patient crashed. This time, there was no recovery and he died a few days later.
It seemed to us that the negligence was obvious. We filed a claim with the VA. No effort was made to settle the case. Ultimately, we filed suit. It didn’t move quickly. There was always some delay from the other side. Finally, a settlement conference was held, and the matter was resolved. The widow and the children were satisfied, although there was no amount of money that could compensate for the loss of this fine husband and father.
Personally, I found the case distressing and sad. Not only did incompetent care by a VA doctor cause this unnecessary death, but our government was slow to resolve the matter – which cost the family additional money in litigation costs. Sadly, I cannot say I was surprised. We have been pursuing claims against the VA for over 20 years and we see this all the time. It’s not right – plainly not right at all – but it is just the basic reality. Regardless, I am glad we were able to help. It is what we do – and we are very good at it.