Ky. widow settles lawsuit against VA for $975,000


Posted on 25th November 2008 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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Date: 11/25/2008

Associated Press Writer

EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. (AP) _ A widow whose husband died at a Veterans Affairs hospital under fire for substandard care has agreed to settle her lawsuit against the government for $975,000, her attorney said.

Katrina Shank had sought $12 million in her federal wrongful-death lawsuit. Her husband, 50-year-old Robert Shank III of Murray, Ky., bled to death in August 2007, a day after undergoing gallbladder surgery at the VA hospital in Marion, Ill.

Shank’s widow claimed the government failed to sufficiently check the background of her husband’s surgeon, Dr. Jose Veizaga-Mendez, before hiring him in January 2006.

Veizaga-Mendez resigned three days after Robert Shank’s death, and major surgeries were ordered halted there after inspectors attributed several patient deaths to questionable surgical care.

Terms involving Katrina Shank’s settlement were not disclosed in court documents, though an e-mail to The Associated Press by one of her attorneys, Stan Heller, put the amount at $975,000.

A message seeking comment was left Tuesday with spokesman for the national VA. According to an order by U.S. District Judge J. Phil Gilbert, the settlement becomes final after 90 days unless it hits a snag.

The VA found at least nine deaths between October 2006 and March 2007 were “directly attributable” to substandard care at the hospital. Those deaths did not include Robert Shank, who died months later.

The VA’s findings do not put the sole blame on Veizaga-Mendez, but Shank’s lawsuit said many or all of those who died were his patients.

At least one other lawsuit involving care by Veizaga-Mendez at the hospital is pending. James Marshall, 61, of Benton, Ky., died of a blood infection in July 2007, six days after Veizaga-Mendez performed a lymph node biopsy. His widow, Darla Marshall, is seeking $10 million in damages.

Veizaga-Mendez, who is not listed as a defendant in the lawsuits, has no listed telephone number and has not responded to repeated messages left by the AP at a Massachusetts home listed as an address for his wife.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.

Pa. widow sues US over Iraq vet-husband’s suicide


Posted on 7th October 2008 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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Date: 10/7/2008 10:58 PM

Associated Press Writer

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ The widow of an Iraq war veteran who committed suicide while in outpatient care for depression at a Veterans Administration hospital has sued the federal government for negligence.

Tiera Woodward, 26, claims in her lawsuit that her late husband, Donald, sought treatment at a VA hospital in Lebanon after three failed suicide attempts but wasn’t seen by a psychiatrist for more than two months.

She says doctors were slow to diagnose her husband with major depression, and that once the diagnosis was made, a psychiatrist failed to schedule a follow-up meeting with her husband after he informed the doctor he had gone off his medication.

Donald Woodward killed himself in March 2006 at age 23.

“I intend to make them make changes,” said Donald Woodward’s mother, Lori Woodward. “I have too many friends whose kids are in Iraq. I have a nephew now in Iraq, in the same unit, and I can’t have my family go through this again.”

Alison Aikele, a VA spokeswoman in Washington, D.C., said the agency does not typically comment on pending litigation.

The lawsuit, filed in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, seeks an unspecified amount for funeral expenses, lost income and pain and suffering.

It echoes other lawsuits nationwide over VA mental-health services, despite legislation President Bush signed in November ordering improvements.

The family of Marine Jeffrey Lucey, also 23, has a federal suit pending in Massachusetts over his June 2004 suicide. And two veterans groups sued the VA in San Francisco seeking an overhaul of its health system, citing special concerns about mental health, but a judge dismissed the suit in June over venue issues.

More than 150,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans have already sought mental health care from the VA, and another 200,000 have sought medical care, according to Veterans for Common Sense, one of the groups involved in the California lawsuit.

“Each tragic veteran suicide is yet another painful reminder of the human cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and VA’s abject failure to provide timely and appropriate mental health care,” said Paul Sullivan, the group’s executive director. “How many wake-up calls does (the) VA need?”

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.