“I came in with a simple fracture and I came out without a leg,” says Steve Garletts, former Marine and Vietnam veteran. Doctors at VA Puget Sounds were connected to the incident.
Veterans across the country have been talking about suing VA for a variety of issues ranging from bad disability claims to medical malpractice. I thought it would be a good idea to include a story from a real case.
Hi and welcome to another edition of Monday Morning Quarterback for Veterans. I am your host, Benjamin Krause, creator of DisabledVeterans.org. For newcomers, this is where I hit on a few top issues and give you my spin and cut out a lot of the needless details.
Here is what we’ll cover today:
- Veteran loses leg
- Tom Philpott article rips sleep apnea beneficiaries, again
- New study helps Agent Orange suffers
Veteran loses leg, sues VA
Disabled veteran Steve Garletts is facing a new battle these days. The Vietnam veteran lost his leg two years ago after a failed treatment from the VA located in Seattle.
After breaking his ankle, the veteran was transferred to a VA facility in Seattle. Doctors at the facility treated the ankle a few times over the spanning weeks after the injury. Garletts’ attorneys claim he contracted a MRSA infection during that time. MRSA is what led to Gartletts’ amputation of the foot. He also suffers from heart problems after the incident.
Here is his story:
He said he got to the hospital a day after he tripped and snapped his ankle while working on a cabin in a remote part of southeast Alaska.
A friend drove him 40 miles to a medical clinic, and Garletts told doctors he preferred to get medical attention for the fracture at the Seattle VA instead of at a hospital in Ketchikan.
Large fracture blisters swelled over his injury while he traveled from his cabin to the clinic and on to Seattle. VA doctors postponed surgery to give the blisters time to heal. They placed a cast on his ankle and released him to the care of his sister in Seattle.
Five days later, doctors checked the injury and put a new a cast on his ankle. On Nov. 30, they removed the cast and drained Garletts’ blisters in what his lawyers described as a “non-sterile” setting.
Garletts returned to the hospital the next day with “confusion and pain.” Doctors sent him home without recognizing the signs of illness setting in, his lawyers wrote.
On Dec. 3, Garletts was admitted to the hospital’s intensive care unit with sepsis and acute respiratory failure. His condition worsened and he was diagnosed with MRSA on Dec. 4.
On Dec. 6, doctors found pus and dead skin accumulating around the ankle. They decided to halt the infection’s spread by amputating Garletts’ right leg below the knee on Dec. 9.
Garletts walks with a prosthetic leg and a cane. He’s unable to work. He takes a daily mix of pain killers and respiratory medicine.
“If the reasonable prudent standard of care had been by met by (VA doctors), Mr. Garletts would not have suffered such severe injury, leading to his amputation, pulmonary failure complications, complications related to infection and other serious health complications likely to shorten Mt. Garletts’ life,” wrote his attorneys, Gordon Webb and George Kargianis.
VA, Congress shrug at surge in sleep apnea claims
I do not always agree with Tom Philpott and his position on veterans benefits and disability compensation. Frankly, his position sometimes strikes me as a little too anti-disabled veteran at times.
For example, a couple years ago, I noticed he wrote a position article on proposed cuts to veterans benefits that would have left 130,000 veterans without health care by excluding them from VA’s health care system. The article was positioned against those veterans by claiming that the policy proposed would only remove veterans “who are not poor.”
I am an independent and dislike hardlined Republicans and Democrats equally. But, I will point out that leaving it up to a Republican to determine who is and is not poor may be a bad move for anyone on the short end of that stick.
Philpott’s take on sleep apnea seems to be about the same. His choice of modifiers is a good example of what to expect from his position, that VA needs massive reform in sleep apnea benefits because more people are claiming that benefit than used to pre 9/11.
First of all, I would like to see how many disability benefits have seen a similar increase in numbers if not a greater increase. We are in a war and it stands to reason that some issues may be more prevalent than before 9/11.
My guess would be that more people are claiming the benefit because more people are exposed to foreign particles that damage the respiratory system. No small culprit in this arena is the burn pit phenomena of the current wars. Further, we now know the sand and bacteria in that region cause numerous ailments that a servicemember would otherwise not deal with if they did not serve in the wars. Maybe these exposures cause more breathing issues?
Former Naval pilot turned attorney, Michael Webster, is cited by Philpott as a leader in the sleep apnea reform movement. Webster believes there is widespread abuse of the system by those veterans who apply and receive a legal benefit for a condition they incurred that is connected with military service.
Webster, an attorney in Florida and former naval aviator, complained to the House Veterans Affairs Committee last year of widespread abuse in sleep apnea claims. He called the boom in payments a scam perpetuated mostly by retirees coached toward an easy 50 percent rating. If they snore, he said, they order a sleep study. Webster called it offensive for veterans, like his late father, with “real disabilities.”
Webster, in this quote, is not noted as being a doctor or even having a specialty in disability benefits. The fact is that obstructive sleep apnea, the one that would be on the chopping block if Webster had his way, is a very complicated problem. Like flying a plane, the human body has many parts that can cause all kinds of symptoms that are hard to properly diagnose.
Perhaps rather than merely cutting benefits these individuals would be better suited to support sleep apnea research that would help us learn why there is an increase. Instead, they want to throw out the baby with the bathwater by preventing benefits for those who do deal with obstructive sleep apnea on a regular basis. My guess is that many of those who receive the benefit were exposed to something that harmed their breathing.
One other point in the article is a position that having a CPAP machine means you have solved the issue and therefore no long suffer from a “disabling” condition. These people apparently have never tried sleep or do anything else with a CPAP attached to their head, not to mention the very obvious fact that those with sleep apnea suffer numerous other problems due to the problem of breathing while sleeping.
Well, if one were to follow that logic, then people with wheelchairs should not get a disability, either. Shame on them for picking on veterans rather than focusing their energy on eliminating our country’s production of disabled veterans from unneeded wars.
Good news for Agent Orange veterans on C-123s
For years, VA has denied the newly determined possibility that C-123s used during Operation Ranch Hand to spray Agent Orange were still toxic. However, new research using basic high school chemistry principles has unwound VA’s earlier position.
Here was VA’s old position:
VA spokeswoman Genevieve Billia told HuffPost in email on Friday that the agency “wants to ensure that all Veterans, including those who served on C123s, receive the benefits to which they are entitled under the law,” and that it will “continue to review new scientific information on this issue as it becomes available.”
“VA does not presume by regulation that these Veterans were exposed to Agent Orange,” said Billia.
The tests were genius in their ability to counter the claim of VA:
The levels of toxic chemicals — measured years, even decades, after the veterans were aboard the C-123s — were likely much higher immediately after the war, researchers said. Airborne levels may also have been particularly high while the planes were airborne, due to extreme temperatures, changes in pressure and vibrations.
One of the models that researchers used, which Stellman suggested was based on a “high school chemistry” concept, demonstrated how the old herbicide could have evaporated and attached to dust particles.
“The VA, whether out of ignorance or malice, has denied the entire existence of this entire branch of science,” said Stellman. “They have this preposterous idea that somehow there is this other kind of state of matter — a dried residue that is completely inert.”
Clapp, one of the co-authors, emphasized how “exquisitely toxic” dioxin is at any dose. The chemical has been linked to a host of health effects including cancers, heart disease and diabetes.
“Exposure to even tiny quantities is not ignorable,” he said.
“We do show plausible exposure,” added Clapp. “These veterans should be compensated, too.”
Veterans like John Harris have fought and finally won their claims while many others have still struggled:
Perhaps no one knows better than retired Lt. Col. John Harris the consequences of the VA’s apparently arbitrary distinction between possible pre- and post-war exposures.
When HuffPost first covered the concerns of Harris and other veterans last July, he described how the VA initially denied him Agent Orange-related benefits for his diabetes, despite his 12 years of working, eating and sleeping onboard what he refers to as “noxious” C-123s after the war. But when he later found records of a one-hour refueling stop he’d made with a fighter jet in Vietnam during the war, the VA granted his refiled claim.
While Harris is happy to have coverage, he remains frustrated for his comrades.
“I’m absolutely positive that I was exposed to Agent Orange and dioxin in that 12-year period,” he told HuffPost after hearing about the new study. “I think the VA is lying, cheating and stealing to prove a case that is unprovable.”
It is good that research is still unraveling VA’s great lie about Agent Orange. I certainly hope the lie is fully debunked before all Vietnam veterans are no longer able to benefit from the result.