Veteran Sues Phoenix VAMC for Misdiagnosis of Cancer

A veteran from Phoenix, AZ is suing the VA Medical Center for $50 million in damages for a delay in diagnosis of prostate cancer.

The suit follows years of complaints against the Phoenix VA Hospital and its urology care.

According to a civil complaint filed in the U.S. District Court, Steven Cooper, 44, served in the Army for 18 years and was honorably discharged in 2007. The complaint claims that between July and December of 2011, Cooper attempted to schedule an appointment with the Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center, but encountered a few obstacles.

He was only able to schedule the appointment for months later and his appointment was cancelled multiple times by the VA, forcing him to reschedule. Cooper finally had an appointment on Dec. 17, 2011 and was seen by a nurse practitioner, not a physician. The nurse failed to examine, evaluate, diagnose, and properly treat Cooper after discovering that his prostate was asymmetrical. The nurse also do not advise him to seek further care.

The complaint states that Cooper continued to seek medical care throughout 2012 for symptoms he had initially made an appointment for. It was not until December 2012 that a VA Medical Center doctor order a prostate-specific antigen test for Cooper, according to the complaint. The results returned as abnormal, and a biopsy was performed on his prostate Dec. 14, 2012. Cooper met with a urologist on Dec. 21, 2012 and was diagnosed with stage four prostate cancer and advised to seek hospice care.

Following the diagnosis, Cooper decided to seek a second opinion and received a radical prostatectomy three weeks later. It is also stated in the complaint that he had suffered multiple complications and is now terminally ill.

Cooper filed the Federal Tort Claim against the VA on Oct. 26, seeking $50 million for personal injuries due to medical negligence.

The veteran declined to speak with a reporter on the matter, and directed questions to his attorney, Greg Patton.

“Steve was a successful business owner […] and his expected lifetime earnings would be $25 million,” said Patton. “The other $25 million is the value of Steve’s life.”

Since Cooper did not have insurance, his only healthcare option was the VA medical system. Patton stated that Cooper was told by the nurse practitioner that he did not have a reason to be concerned with his abnormal exam and further treatment was unnecessary.

According to Patton, the nurse practitioner was wrong, and if Cooper would have received the proper treatment during his 2011 visit, his prostate cancer would not have progressed as far as it did.

The Carl T. Hayden VAMC has been scrutinized since the scandal unfolded in April 2014, when VA employees reported about a months-long wait list for ill veterans.

The issues with wait times at the clinic were due to lack of space and staffing, according to Jean Schaefer, a public affairs officer.

Schaefer stated in a phone interview, “we have taken steps to address both of those.”

According to the report released by the Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General on Oct. 15, 45% of patients at the Phoenix VA center with bladder, prostate, or urinary-tract issues received a delay in their care, or no care at all, over the past two years.

This report describes 10 cases where patients’ treatment or diagnosis was so delayed, “it may have affected their clinical outcomes,” and, “such delays placed patients at unnecessary risk.”

The patients died in half of the 10 cases.

Schaefer claimed in an email that since 2014, the VA has been increasing the “number of employees in urology to 6.5 full-time-equivalent employees and are actively recruiting two more employees.”

Schaefer and the VA declined to comment specifically on Cooper’s case.

The Archuleta Law Firm handles injury, death, and veterans medical malpractice claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act. We handle claims in all 50 States and Worldwide. Our focus is helping Veterans, and the families of Veterans and Military Service Members in their claims involving Veterans (VA) Hospitals, Doctors and Clinics and Military Hospitals, Doctors and Clinics. We handle claims involving the Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Army, the U.S. Navy, and the U.S. Air Force.

Source: AZ Central