The Department of Veterans Affairs has knowingly hired doctors with trails of misconduct allegations, licensing problems, malpractice accusations, and patient settlements, according to a recent USA Today investigation.
In fact, the newspaper suggests that the VA may actually attract troubled doctors and clinicians because it doesn’t require that they have their own malpractice insurance. Thus, doctors dubbed too risky for private malpractice insurance based on problematic pasts may find relief at the VA, where malpractice claims are paid out using taxpayer money.
In their investigation, USA Today dug up 15 prior malpractice complaints and settlements against neurosurgeon John Henry Schneider, who was hired in April by the Veterans Affairs hospital in Iowa City, Iowa, with an annual salary of $385,000.
The malpractice cases stretch back to 1997, just months after Dr. Schneider received his medical license in Montana. Lawsuits and complaints allege that Schneider’s surgeries left one patient paralyzed, another with severe brain damage, and several with botched spine operations and severe pain. One patient lost bladder and bowel control after Schneider performed three spine surgeries.
In 2014, the Wyoming Board of Medicine revoked Schneider’s license following a wrongful death suit filed by the family of one of his former patients. In that case from 2011, Russell Monaco, a father of two, had surgery to reduce pressure on nerves in his lower back. Afterward, he was discharged—despite dangerously low blood-oxygen levels—and prescribed a lethal mix of narcotics, including fentanyl, oxycodone, valium, and Demerol. He took the medications as prescribed and died at home the next day, devastating and traumatizing his family, the lawsuit alleges.
“I tried to wake him up and yelled and the girls came down screaming,” his wife, Kathy Monaco told USA Today. “It was horrible, I mean, I live that day over every day.”
Still, Schneider held a medical license from Montana and continued to practice. Later in 2014, he filed for bankruptcy, leaving malpractice payouts in limbo, including payments to the Monaco family.
In an interview with the paper, Dr. Schneider denies any wrongdoing and blames colleagues or uncontrollable medical complications.
In a statement, the VA said that Schneider had disclosed “all the issues” in his job application and was hired after a “group of his medical peers thoroughly reviewed” his file and “approved his competency.”
In light of USA Today’s investigation, though, VA officials determined that Schneider’s hiring was illegal. Agency spokesperson Curt Cashour said that agency officials provided the Iowa City hospital with “incorrect guidance” about Schneider’s hiring. The VA moved to fire Schneider last Wednesday, but he resigned ahead of time.
Schneider isn’t the only questionable hire from the VA, the investigation found. Reporters dug up a string of others. Those include the hiring of psychiatrist Stephen Lester Greer in 2013 to a VA hospital in Muskogee, Oklahoma, despite the state’s board taking several disciplinary actions against Greer previously. One of those disciplinary actions was for sexual misconduct. Greer went on to sleep with one of his VA patients.
In 2004, a VA clinic in Lafayette, Louisiana, hired a psychologist with several felony convictions. He was fired earlier this year after complaints racked up and an internal investigation deemed him a “direct threat to others.” A VA hospital in Jackson, Mississippi, hired ophthalmologist Daniel K. Kim, despite disciplinary actions against him by Georgia’s medical board. In 2006, a surgery by Dr. Kim left a WWII veteran blinded. In 2012, Kim allegedly implanted the wrong lens in another patient’s eye.
VA patients who spoke with the paper said that they deserved better.
“Here the veterans—they went and served their country—and they’re messed up and everything,” said Michael Green, who is awaiting a malpractice payment from Dr. Schneider for an allegedly botched spine surgery. “And then turn that guy loose on them—that’s what doesn’t make sense.”