Investigation Finds VA Knowingly Hires Doctors with Malpractice Claims

An investigation by USA TODAY found that VA hospitals are hiring doctors with a history of medical malpractice and discipline claims.

John Henry Schneider, a neurosurgeon, was hired by the VA despite having more than a dozen malpractice claims and settlements in two states. Some cases alleged that Schneider made surgical mistakes that killed or paralyzed patients.

Schneider’s license was revoked in Wyoming after a surgical patient died. He then applied for a job at the VA hospital in Iowa City, Iowa. Schneider was upfront and honest about his malpractice claims history and license revocation.

He was hired, and began working at a hospital that serves more than 180,000 veterans in 50 counties in Missouri, Iowa and Illinois.

Scheider performed four brain surgeries in a matter of four weeks on one patient, who later died. Other patients are experiencing complications.

USA TODAY’s investigation, shared by Ankin Law Office LLC‘s Facebook page, found that Schneider is not an isolated case. In Oklahoma, a VA hospital knowingly hired a psychiatrist with previous sanctions for sexual misconduct. That psychiatrist went on to sleep with a VA patient, according to internal documents. He was also charged with witness tampering for trying to persuade the patient to lie about their relationship to federal investigators.

Another clinic in Louisiana hired a psychiatrist with previous felony convictions, which included drug dealing, burglary and reckless driving which resulted in death. That person was fired after they determined he was a “direct threat to others.” The VA had failed to conduct a criminal background check on the psychiatrist.

In Jackson, Mississippi, the VA hospital hired an ophthalmologist who was sanctioned by the licensing authorities in Georgia. One of his patients was blinded in 2006 after allegedly implanting the wrong lens in another patient’s eye. He has blamed the incident on the nurse who was assisting him.

Another psychiatrist was hired even after he was charged by the Iowa Board of Medicine for engaging in an inappropriate relationship with a patient and for taking medications home. He was promoted to chief of staff just two years later.

He was given the nickname “candy man” because he prescribed prolific amounts of drugs. He was fired after it was revealed a patient had died from mixed drug toxicity.

The VA attracts troubled medical workers, as agency clinicians are not required to carry medical malpractice insurance. Malpractice claims are paid through the agency with taxpayer money. Those with past histories of malpractice claims may be deemed too risky to obtain coverage in private practice.

VA officials have determined that the hiring of Schneider, and potentially other doctors, was illegal.

Under federal law, the VA is barred from hiring doctors whose licenses have been revoked by a state board, even if the doctor still holds a license in another state.

On the surface, the VA appears to have a rigorous hiring process, USA TODAY notes. Licenses and education are verified, interviews are conducted and references are checked. Clinical hires must also be reviewed and approved by a professional standards board.

But when applicants disclose problems with malpractice claims, licensing and criminal histories, the VA hospitals have discretion to weigh the applicant’s explanations and hire them anyway.

Melissa Thompson
Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, revealing interesting things we didn't know before. She is a freelance USA Today producer, and a Technorati contributor.