An attorney representing about 60 veterans will ask the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to pay disability benefits and damages for mistakes that may have exposed them to blood-borne infections. Mike Sheppard of Nashville said he expects other affected veterans will join the complaint.
Sheppard's clients are among the 10,320 former patients at VA facilities in Murfreesboro, Tenn., Miami, and Augusta, Ga., who were warned they could have been exposed to hepatitis and HIV due to endoscopy equipment errors at the three centers. Updated records indicate that among the 9,141 who heeded VA warnings to get screened for infections, 12 have tested positive for hepatitis B, 37 for hepatitis C, and eight for HIV.
Among those filing claims are veterans who have tested positive for HIV and hepatitis and others who suffered emotional distress after the VA provided them with initial positive test results that turned out to be incorrect, said Sheppard. He plans to file medical malpractice and emotional distress claims with the VA within 30 to 45 days.
Other veterans are likely to seek compensation beyond the VA's offer of free medical care, said Sheppard. "I've gotten calls from all over the country," he noted.
According to Sheppard, the compensation requested will vary depending on the veterans' age, ailments, and other factors. "It's a case by case basis," he said.
The VA has said there is no way to prove that the positive tests stem from the endoscopy mistakes. In a statement, the agency expressed regret but also said veterans have been informed of their legal right "to submit disability claims on account of VA negligence."