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Georgia Vets Hurt in VA Nursing Homes

According to a recent article in the Boston Globe, when veterans need nursing home care, the VA can place them in agency nursing homes or in other facilities at VA expense. Taxpayers pay $1,125 each night to house a veteran in VA nursing homes. That’s far higher than the average $296 each night in private facilities or $174 in state-run nursing homes where the VA pays a portion of the cost, according to agency budget documents. VA officials said the rates are not directly comparable because VA nursing home costs include hospital care and “more expensive medical services that just aren’t available in most non-VA facilities.” The agency told the Government Accountability Office in 2013 that about 40 percent of VA nursing home costs account for “core” services and would be comparable. At that percentage, the current VA core cost would be $450 a night, still 52 percent more than the agency’s cost for private placement. Despite the sizable public spending on VA nursing homes – more than $3.6 billion in 2018 – the agency until recently had kept the findings of inspections of its nursing homes confidential.

Despite the extremely high costs and apparent secrecy, according to the article, at the Veterans Affairs nursing home in Brockton, Massachusetts, a severely impaired veteran with dementia sat trapped in his wheelchair for hours, his right foot stuck between the foot rests. Inspectors watched as staff walked past the struggling man without helping. Veterans moaned in pain without adequate medication at VA nursing homes in Dayton, Ohio, and Augusta, Maine. A unit at the VA nursing home in Lyons, New Jersey, had no functional call system for residents to summon caregivers.

In another example cited in the article, a severely impaired veteran with Parkinson’s disease went without adequate pain medication day after day at the VA nursing home in Augusta, Maine, as nursing staff treated a sore at the base of his spine that had penetrated to the bone. “The resident moaned throughout the wound care and the moaning increased during wound cleansing and measuring,” noted an inspector who witnessed the episodes in July. Inspectors cited the Augusta facility and 28 other VA nursing homes for failing to ensure veterans didn’t suffer from serious pain. This is barbaric and would not be tolerated in any other facility in the country, unless it was a VA facility. The issue has been a long-standing problem at VA nursing homes – flagged more than seven years ago by the GAO, which found a high percentage of veterans were in pain. Specialists said caregivers should assess and adjust medications or try other methods to make sure residents get relief.

As sad as this may sound, as a lawyer who is also a U.S. Army veteran, and who is well familiar with the VA medical system, this kind of indifference to pain and suffering of veterans by VA staff does not surprise me. Why? Because I have witnessed it first hand. While not every VA staffer is indifferent to veteran pain and suffering, the culture at the VA promotes a lack of dignity and respect and this is harmful to veterans. Not only does it lead to subpar medical care, it harms the veterans emotionally and, as we all know, has led to a number of veterans taking their lives in and around VA medical facilities in Atlanta and around the nation. This is a disgusting and horrible way to run and organization and it must be stopped immediately to protect the health and welfare of veterans who rely on the VA medical system for health and psychiatric care.

Robert J. Fleming is a partner in the law firm of Katz Wright Fleming Dodson & Mildenhall, LLC in Atlanta, Georgia and Decatur, Georgia. He is a personal injury attorney who has been handling wrongful death, dental malpractice, professional negligence, car accidents and premises injury cases for individuals and families who have been injured or died as a result of negligence for over 25 years. He practices in and around the Atlanta, Georgia area including handling lawsuits in Fulton, DeKalb, Clayton, Gwinnett, Cobb and other counties in Georgia and nearby cities such as Alpharetta, Chamblee, College Park, Conyers, Duluth, Decatur, Doraville, Hapeville, Johns Creek, Jonesboro, Lawrenceville, Norcross, Peachtree City, Roswell, Sandy Springs, Stone Mountain, and Smyrna. If you or a family member has been seriously injured and would like to discuss your case in complete confidence, contact Robert J. Fleming directly on (404) 525-5150 or contact us online. We are here to help.