Americans woke up to some really nasty news yesterday morning.  Over 1,800 veterans have a letter on the way from the Department of Veterans Affairs informing them that they may have been exposed to the deadly illnesses hepatitis and HIV during dental work offered at a Veterans hospital in Missouri.  Sure, sometimes accidents happen, but it is horrifying to realize that healthcare providers at this hospital routinely broke sanitation protocol for over a year.  Dentists and dental technicians simply failed to clean their dental instruments properly.  This is not the first time this has happened at VA facilities, either. 

Men and women that have served our country in such an honorable capacity deserve to receive reliable, affordable healthcare.  The VA system currently serves nearly 8 million vets through over 15 VA hospitals and 768 outpatient clinics and unfortunately, it’s fairly common for the Veterans Administration and its medical providers to provide substandard service.  One reason for this is that these institutions don’t have to worry about being sued over medical malpractice.  Federal law protects individual VA healthcare providers from being named in law suits over medical errors.

 IWF has written ( about the need for common sense medical malpractice reform to protect providers from frivolous lawsuits and discourage the use of defensive medicine.  Yet the potential for legitimate legal action can discourage negligence.   – not just the frivolous claims that we hear about in the news.  Basically, we have traded in personal accountability on the part of medical providers so that this package of “benefits” can attract doctors to this public healthcare system.  While this policy may have been well-intentioned, the far-reaching implications allow for inappropriate treatment of America’s military veterans.

Instead of holding the individual medical practitioner responsible for the medical error, aggrieved vets may only sue the United States.  Medical malpractice cases that result in a payment of more than $2,500 are paid by the Department of the Treasury and don’t actually affect the VA’s budget.  Why should these public health institutions worry about the potential of medical malpractice suits when they won’t feel the burden of the botched job? 

Let’s hope that the political pressure put on Congress will result in appropriate changes being made within the VA system.  Our veterans deserve a dynamic healthcare system that can give them the best treatment available, not a shoddy bureaucratic quagmire.  Rep. Russ Carnahan has already called for a full investigation by the House subcommittee on veterans’ affairs.