The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has mistakenly notified hundreds of veterans that they have Lou Gehrig’s disease, in the most recent of a string of VA medical errors that have plagued the agency. The notification error comes as the VA faces potential lawsuits from other veterans who may have been infected with HIV or hepatitis from unsanitary VA medical equipment, and veterans who were victims of medical malpractice at a VA cancer treatment center in Philadelphia.
The VA announced on Tuesday that it accidentally sent letters to a number of veterans that detailed the benefits available to spouses and children of veterans who contracted Lou Gehrig’s disease, which is a fatal condition.
While VA officials said they had only been made aware of 10 veterans who mistakenly received the letters, the National Gulf War Resource Center estimates that at least 1,200 veterans were mistakenly notified, based on the number of panicked veterans from at least a dozen states that contacted the group.
Earlier this year, the agency notified 11,000 veterans that they were exposed to infectious diseases because of poorly cleaned endoscopic equipment at three different clinics. At the beginning of this month, the VA reported that at least eight of those veterans have been diagnosed with HIV, 12 with hepatitis B and 37 with hepatitis C.
At least one veteran who has been diagnosed with HIV, Juan Rivera, has notified the VA that he intends to file a medical malpractice lawsuit against the government for failing to follow proper procedures between patients. Other veterans have also retained attorneys who are preparing to present VA malpractice claims, including at least one who contracted hepatitis and about 60 who indicate that they will be filing based on emotional distress.
The VA has promised to fully care for the medical needs of any infected veterans who were part of the colonoscopy scandal. Some veterans are also wondering whether the agency will pay for potentially thousands of dollars in testing undergone by fearful veterans who thought they had Lou Gehrig’s disease. However, VA officials were not clear earlier this week whether veterans would receive compensation for those tests.
Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as ALS, attacks nerve cells that control voluntary muscles and most victims have a prognosis of five years or less.
The VA also faces potential lawsuits stemming from a cancer unit in Philadelphia that botched nearly 100 colon cancer radiation treatment surgeries. The incidents, still under investigation by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, uncovered a cancer unit that had no supervision from superiors, allegedly altered medical records to cover up mistakes and kept exposing veterans to radioactive materials even after machinery used to measure exposure broke down.
Early this summer, the VA was blasted during congressional hearings by lawmakers who said the VA risked losing the confidence of the many veterans who depend on the agency for health care. At the hearing, VA officials informed lawmakers that more than half of VA facilities failed surprise safety inspections even after exposure of sanitary problems at some facilities erupted into controversy.