LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Thousands of payouts to veterans who have claimed to be victims of medical malpractice have recently been uncovered, and the money may not be coming from where you might expect.
The Department of Veterans Affairs does not appear to be footing the bill for the payouts, which have tallied close to $1 billion.
The money for each payout comes from the federal treasury, not the VA's own budget, according to California Congressman Adam Schiff.
The congressman says he believes this may indicate an accountability issue with the department.
Despite this, Schiff says, there are improvements underway after the resignation of former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.
Schiff explains that a website will soon be created for veterans to check if their doctors have ever been sued for malpractice and found to be at fault.
"There are changes that have already been put in place, but we're going to need a top-to-bottom review to make sure that the VA is meeting the finest standard of care for our veterans," Schiff said.
CBS2's Peter Daut spoke with Stan Dawson, a veteran living in Santa Monica, who said he lost his voice long after serving in the Army.
Dawson explained that doctors at the Westwood VA punctured his esophagus accidentally last year during a surgical procedure on his throat.
"Until my remaining days, I'm going to have this voice handicap," Dawson said. "(The cause was) surgical error. There's no question about that."
He was able to file a medical malpractice claim, but puts blame on the hospital for the permanent loss of his voice.
"The department of veterans affairs is committed to providing the best quality, safe and effective health care our Veterans have earned and deserve," Randal Noller of the Department of Veterans Affairs said in a statement. "We take seriously any issue that occurs at any of our health care facilities across the country."
A massive database of all federal government payouts from lawsuits and settlements revealed thousands of malpractice cases, involving the VA, which were either lost or settled over the past decade.
While a settlement does not necessarily mean the VA is at fault, the cost to taxpayers has been over $892 million nationally, and $5.4 million from payouts involving Southern California VA hospitals over the past year and a half.
The payouts continue to increase, with the VA payout out a higher rate than private-sector health systems.
Meanwhile, while Dawson will never be able to communicate as he used to, he hopes his message is loud and clear.
"If I had to do it over again, I would never go to the VA."
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